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Volunteers clock one million hours

Refurbishing wheelchairs focus of international outreach of Iowa group

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ORANGE CITY, Iowa - Volunteers at Hope Haven International Ministries, which distributes refurbished wheelchairs to people with disabilities, particularly abroad, recently marked the 1,000,000th hour volunteered to strip and rebuild used wheelchairs. Since 1997, the nine workshops in the so-called Tri-State area in NW Iowa shipped nearly 71,000 such wheelchairs via partnering groups to 104 countries.

One of the shops, located in Orange City, a community founded over 140 years ago by Dutch Americans, was opened in 2001 and since then has shipped 3,200 wheelchairs. Of the 30 volunteers at the shop, retiree Randall Van Gelder put in over 1,000 hours in 2007. So far, the Orange City shop has clocked a total of 49,000 volunteer hours. Most of the other workshops are older. Of these, six are in NW Iowa, two in South Dakota and one in Minnesota. Two more shops are manned by prisoners in South Dakota jails. There are other shops abroad as well.

The used wheelchair program has collection points throughout much of the USA, where they also take in walkers, canes and other mobility aids. To date, the program only lists one Canadian collection point. Surrey, BC, retired machine shop owner Ralph Terpstra offered his help after reading how people in Guatemala were helped by the refurbished chairs. Since then, he has been to the Central American country several times.

With over 12,000 wheelchairs, Vietnam is Hope Havenís largest recipient by far. Guatemala is a distant second with over 6,000, followed by Romania with over 5,000, Palestine with over 3,000, and Mexico with over 2,800.

Hope Haven was started in 1959 with the aim of helping disabled people in NW Iowa. In 1964 it commenced a program with two teachers and an aide in rented space at the Rock Valley Christian School. Its initial enrollment was eleven children. By 2002 Hope Haven had enrolled nearly 800 children in seven programs. Its adult program catered that year to over 160 people, and includes housing.