This story by Zac Schultz first appeared on Wisconsin Life.
There are a lot of different kinds of freedoms, but one most of us take for granted is freedom of movement. For some people, just getting out of the house to visit friends can be an impossible task.
Which is why twice a week, a group of retired veterans shows up at the Mobility 4 Vets Wheelchair Shop in Waupaca. They’ll spend the next few hours fixing up donated wheelchairs and scooters, just some veterans helping restore a little freedom of movement.
“We take the equipment and refurbish it and get it back into working shape, put a very reasonable asking price on it and make people happy,” says Ken Tourville, President of the non-profit.
Tourville says donated goods, volunteers and free rent allow them to make mobility affordable. “A lot of people don’t realize how much some of this mobile equipment goes. Some of those chairs run up into $30,000 range.”
Tourville says most of these chairs were purchased through Medicare or the VA, but they don’t take returns. “I got a call from a lady, said it belonged to her father. He just passed away. She said I don’t even know if he used it, if he did-once or twice-maybe.”
It’s a $20,000 electric wheelchair. Mobility 4 Vets will list it for $800, but they understand even that could be too expensive so the right price could be nothing more than a handshake. “So our prices run anywhere from zero up to whatever you can afford,” says Tourville. “We put a very reasonable price on things.”
Years ago the group worked out of a wheelchair repair shop at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Home at King, just down the road. “Five of us were volunteers there for quite a while,” says Tourville. “They ended up closing the shop. We talked about it and said do we really want to open another shop? Our youngest guy at that time was like 73. We decided it’s really worthwhile what we’re doing there and helping people.”
Despite the name, Mobility 4 Vets will help anyone. “So we really have a warm spot in our heart for veterans but we really try to help everybody,” says Tourville.
The social aspect can be just as important for their customers. Immobility can be isolating. Veterans may want a chair and a conversation. “We understand what their needs are. Sometimes we just shoot the bull,” says Tourville. He can relate because he uses a chair as well. “I had a bad accident. And I got a whole new respect for stairs, for ramps. For accessibility.”
Ken understands how easy it is to lose mobility, and therefore how important their service really is. It’s that history of service that ties this group together. “Like the old saying, band of brothers,” says Tourville. “Veterans just kind of bond to one another. We have a very special bond. If I can help a veteran that makes my day.”