|The Orange County Register|
August 1, 2011
Free Wheelchair Mission's "Magic of Mobility" Fundraiser Nets $1 Million
Free Wheelchair Mission's 10th anniversary "Magic of Mobility" fundraiser, held at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa on July 26th, drew 567 guests and posted more than $1 million in net proceeds. The nonprofit has given away close to 600,000 wheelchairs to people with disabilities in the developing world in 81 different counties in 10 years. Among the recipients are brothers Siengmy, left, and Siengsy Phengphachan, right, from the People's Republic of Laos. FWM Founder and President Don Schoendorfer, center, is surrounded by FWM board member and event chair Deborah Anderson, left, and Gillian Chong, right, who represents Operation Blessing International, who works with the Christian Broadcasting Network to distribute the wheelchairs.
Seeing the two wheelchair-bound brothers smiling their 100-watt smiles at the 10th anniversary Free Wheelchair Mission's "Magic of Mobility" fundraiser on Tuesday, July 26th at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa was worth the ticket! Since People's Republic of Laos residents 15-year-old Siengmy Phengphachan and his 20-year-old brother Siengsy received wheelchairs from Free Wheelchair Mission last year, their lives have changed immeasurably. A moving video showed how being mobile allowed the brothers to return to school, play, go to festivals with the family, and support the family by feeding the ducks, chickens and pigs. Speaking at the event through translator Gillian Chong, who represented Operation Blessing International, who works with the Christian Broadcasting Network to distribute the FWM wheelchairs, the brothers related their thanks. "I have happiness in my heart, thanks to being mobile in a wheelchair," said Siengsy, who wants to be a doctor, his mother's wish, he said. Siengmy, who wants to be singer, sang a Laotian folk song to everyone's delight.
Another smiling face was Free Wheelchair Mission's Founder and President Don Schoendorfer, who left a successful career in the biomedical field to invent an inexpensive and durable wheelchair using a basic lawn chair and bicycle wheels to service people with disabilities in the developing world, which became the cornerstone of the faith-based nonprofit. "After 10 years," he said, "we've given away close to 600,000 wheelchairs in 81 different countries." Schoendorfer's long-term goal is to give away 20 million wheelchairs. Jokingly he said, "We're getting old, so we've got to step it up a bit." The goal for the evening was to raise enough money to provide 20,000 wheelchairs. "That's enough for a city of one million to absorb," he said. "There are 500 cities in India that have one million people each, to put it in perspective. It's a world-size problem."
FWM board member Deborah Anderson, who served as event chair, welcomed the 567 guests after they had taken a couple of hours to peruse the silent auction and enjoy offerings from the mashed potato martini bar, the ravioli station and kabob-couscous buffet. She thanked event sponsors, the event committees and, in particular, FWM Donor Officer Angela Gomez and event coordinator Lisa Bergstedt for their work on the fundraiser.
Following the Phengphachan brothers' introduction, FWM Board Chairman Jim Franklin offered his services as auctioneer for the live auction, which featured a large painting of a Laotian elephant, painted on the spot by San Diego artist Stephen Fishwick. The acrylic on panel board painting sold for $15,000 to an anonymous guest, who immediately gave it to Schoendorfer and his wife Laurie. Other offerings included a week's stay in Deer Valley at a luxurious private home, a diamond necklace and two one-leaf, first press runs of the original King James Bible printed in 1611.
The container auction sold everything from one ship's container of wheelchairs valued at $37,560, which sold 11 times (each container holds 550 wheelchairs), to the sale of one wheelchair valued at $59.20, which was matched by an anonymous family. The result was an impressive net proceeds of more than $1 million, including silent auction and event underwriting monies.
I talked with three women attending the event from Chicago during the reception and found that they had established a Free Wheelchair Mission chapter in the Windy City three years ago and had raised $250,000. Speaking for Marci Barth and Linda Rogins, Laurie Rosin said, "Working with Free Wheelchair Mission, we found that fundraising is one aspect because it's so important to be able to fund these chairs and send them all over the world but actually being in these third world countries and literally helping poor, disabled persons into the chair has given us more than we could have ever asked for." The chapter members have helped distribute wheelchairs in Ecuador, Costa Rica and Chile.
Other board members attending besides Anderson, Franklin and the Schoendorfers included Dr. Michael Bayer, Doug Circle, Denny Kromer, and Connie Salios. Event steering committee members in attendance were Ann Duncan, Kerry Herbert, Lauren Jolliffe, Janice Munemitsu, Ann Owen, Lori Pechuls, and Meryl Resnick, and the event committee drew Carol Acton, Shere Clifford, Janet Grattan, Janice Reger, Susan Rubio, Lisa Tran, Margaret Watkins, and Diane Wilson.
A 30-day devotional book with pictures of wheelchair recipients showing their joy at being mobile was given to each departing guest. The joyous smiles said it all!