Donors Dig Deep at Miracle of Mobility Gala, Raised $1.5 Million to Fund Nearly 19,000 Wheelchairs

Free Wheelchair Mission celebrates one million lives changed through gift of mobility, begins mission to give out second million by 2025.

Costa Mesa, CA, July 19, 2017 --( It was a celebratory evening filled with inspiration and love as more than 700 supporters of Free Wheelchair Mission gathered at Segerstrom Center for the Arts on July 13 to relish the momentous milestone of delivering one million wheelchairs to people in need in developing nations. But the guests didn’t stop there – at the end of the evening, $1.5 million had been raised, enough to change nearly 19,000 more lives as the humanitarian, faith-based organization began its march to its second million wheelchairs.

Departing from the usual “celebrity” keynote speaker route, Free Wheelchair Mission flew in three wheelchair recipients from Vietnam, El Salvador and Jamaica to share their personal stories. It was an emotional night as the guests spoke about their disability, how tough it is to live in their respective countries without mobility, and how their lives have changed dramatically since receiving a wheelchair. While each story began with unique hardships, they all shared a sense of hope and gratitude for bright futures that include going to college, running a business, and giving back to those less fortunate than themselves.

The three represented the one million men, women and children in 93 countries who, since 2001, experienced the “miracle of mobility” through the efforts of Free Wheelchair Mission, based in Irvine, Calif.

Just as thrilling for the audience was when Don Schoendorfer, Free Wheelchair Mission, founder and president, revealed the recipient of the one millionth wheelchair — a 12-year-old girl named Flor, from a remote village in the Andes of Peru, who as a baby experienced severe neurological damage following a bad reaction to a vaccine. She previously had to be carried everywhere she went – and she was getting too big for that. Without a wheelchair, her future was grim. Footage of a recent trip to present her with the millionth wheelchair showed her crying, laughing, and applauding her gift. Her future is now bright, as she can return to school and play with her brothers.

The evening included a silent auction with a magnificent array of items, ranging from luxury trips and Winston jewels to electric guitars and a child-sized Tesla. The silent auction alone raised $56,000. While guests shopped they were tempted with international themed food stations with dishes such as teriyaki salmon and Thai black rice; mashed potatoes topped with short ribs, pulled rosemary chicken or chipotle cheddar; jerked chicken and vegetable empanadas; and after the program, guests enjoyed bombolinis (Italian doughnuts) paired with tiny milkshakes.

The big action came during the live auction, when guests seated in the concert hall were asked to directly participate in changing lives. A large screen displayed auction progress in real time – a graphic depicting a freighter became increasingly loaded with containers carrying wheelchairs as the auction continued. Bidding numbers filled the air, as nearly everyone participated at some level – from two donors who each gave two full containers (1,100 wheelchairs, totaling $88,000) to donors who gave one wheelchair, transforming one life ($80). The nearly 19,000 wheelchairs will be produced and delivered later this year, using established international humanitarian, government, and faith-based partners around the world.

Schoendorfer opened the program by describing how he began back in 2001. An engineer by trade, he was trying to solve a problem he saw – 100 million people around the world needing wheelchairs but too poor to get one. His goal: develop a simple, inexpensive wheelchair that would withstand rugged terrain.

“Here we are, 16 years and a million wheelchairs later,” said Schoendorfer, who thanked the many donors at the gala who have been tremendous supporters all along the way. He also thanked his wife, Laurie, who was a very big part of Free Wheelchair Mission and recently passed away.

As the program concluded, confetti showered the audience, each carrying an individual prayer and inspiration to continue the mission of changing lives through the gift of mobility.

“OK, a million is done. What is next, you may wonder?” Schoendorfer asked the audience. “It took us — you and me — 16 years to do this first million. We want to do the next million in half the time. In 2025, we aim to celebrate the second million wheelchairs.”

Sponsors of the gala included Advisors Mortgage Group, LoanDepot, NuWest Insurance Services, Brookfield Residential, PAAMCO, Down’s Energy, The SoCo Group, In-N-Out, F&M Bank, Voit; as well as a handful of personal donors. A full list can be viewed here:

About Free Wheelchair Mission:
Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) is a humanitarian, faith-based, nonprofit organization providing wheelchairs at no cost to people with disabilities living in developing nations. In collaboration with a network of like-minded partners, FWM has provided one million wheelchairs since 2001 to people with disabilities in 93 countries. FWM provides dignity, independence, and hope through the gift of mobility at a price of only $80. Learn more at
HKA Marketing Communications
Delaine Moore