The mission of the nonprofit organization Chariots of Love is simple — to provide free wheelchairs and wheelchair repairs for mobility-challenged children and young adults. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, the charity presented its 104th wheelchair to a student at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington.
“Fany is a lovely girl who came to the United States from Honduras in 2016 with her mother. She had no formal education, as the system there did not cater to her physical and cognitive needs,” said Valerie Mathieu, CEO and founder of Chariots of Love. “She now attends high school, where she is a classmate with Natalie, who has received two wheelchairs from us in the past.”
The young teen was using a borrowed manual wheelchair when two physical therapists with the Palm Beach County School District reached out to the program to find a better chair for her.
The perfect chair turned out to be one donated by another family, the Krolls.
“I knew that it would go to a good cause, and a lot of times we donate things to Chariots of Love,” said Courtney Kroll, who donated her daughter Kelcie’s old wheelchair to the program. “We know it is going for a good cause, but we never get to see where, so this is really nice — to see the actual person and see them receive the wheelchair.”
Kelcie Kroll’s old wheelchair required some special modifications before it would be ready for Fany to use, so Chariots of Love worked with supporter TD Medical to make the necessary changes. Michael Dambra, a wheelchair seating specialist with TD Medical, worked on the chair.
“We have worked with Chariots of Love for four or five years. It all started with one client,” Dambra said. “We are able to give a substantial discount or provide refurbished equipment. A lot of times, people get new equipment, and you can repurpose old equipment and give it to somebody else instead of just leaving it in the garage to collect dust.”
The school arranged for the chair to be a special surprise for Fany, and she was surrounded by her classmates, friends and school staff when the new wheelchair was presented to her. She clapped her hands excitedly as everyone shouted “surprise” in a room full of balloons and even a special cake.
After moving into the new wheelchair, Fany received another surprise from Chariots of Love’s Jeff Cohen — a new television. Unbeknownst to many in attendance, Fany’s birthday was just a few days away.
“By presenting the free wheelchair with our supporters, volunteers and members of our community present, we hope to spread the word of our services to other families in need and encourage much-needed sponsorships and tax-deductible donations,” Mathieu said. “That way, we never have to turn away a family needing a wheelchair or wheelchair repairs for their child due to lack of funds.”
Chariots of Love accepts both monetary and in-kind donations in addition to sponsorships. To learn more about the program, and its sister organization Chariots on Ice, visit www.chariotsoflove.org.