In the late 1990s, as I worked on the prototype for what would become our GEN_1 wheelchair, my wife, Laurie, encouraged me to bring some of these wheelchairs on a mission trip, so I took four to India and gave them away.

This was the start of Free Wheelchair Mission.

Our beginnings were fueled by Laurie’s love, support, and encouragement. She gave me the confidence to pursue this endeavor, even going back to work after 16 years of being a full-time mother in order to support our family and make this possible. Laurie co-founded Free Wheelchair Mission.

You might have heard that Laurie passed away last Saturday, surrounded by our three daughters and me, filled with faith, love, and dignity. A tribute has been posted here.

In honor of Laurie’s legacy, I’d still like to share a story of a life transformed by the gift of a wheelchair.

Jonatán is a 20-year-old in El Salvador. He suffers from spina bifida– just ten days after his birth, his mother abandoned him and his family, leaving him to be raised by his father and grandparents. His family members would carry him to school, or they would borrow someone else´s wheelchair. However, the long distance between his house and school made it very difficult for him to attend regularly, especially as he grew too big for his relatives to carry.

Jonatán is a bright, dedicated young man and is part of his school´s band, playing the trumpet and other wind instruments. He would like to continue playing for the band after graduation, and he hopes to pursue a degree in accounting.

Since Jonatán´s family has limited financial resources, they were unable to buy a wheelchair for him. “I never imagined owning a brand new wheelchair,” he said, but he did, thanks to distribution partners World Vision and ADRA, who fitted him with a GEN_3.

Juan Pablo Ventura, the National Director of ADRA in El Salvador, said, “It was wonderful to see the joy in his face when Jonatán received his wheelchair and was able to move freely, knowing he would now be able to continue his studies without any mobility issues… Through wheelchairs, we are transforming the lives of many people with disabilities and also the lives of their families.”

Stories like this have encouraged us throughout the years, from our humble beginnings in Laurie’s and my garage 16 years ago up until today, as we are on the verge of distributing our one-millionth wheelchair.

Thank you for your part in making these stories possible. We could not have come this far without all of you. Your faith in us has always inspired Laurie and me.


Don Schoendorfer