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Nonprofit hopes to give thousands of wheelchairs to people in need

Thousands of Nevadans could receive a new wheelchair thanks to a nonprofit with the goal of increasing mobility for an often-expensive necessity.

The Wheelchair Foundation’s Nevada chapter hopes to donate 5,000 wheelchairs to residents in need over the next five years, Director John Williams said.

The foundation aims to help people with mobility issues and disabilities get around better and also address the high cost of a chair. Wheelchairs can range from several hundred dollars to $2,000.

“We do it for mobility, so people can actually get out of the house, go shopping, and just act like a normal life,” Williams said. “My thank you letters say it all. Most of them say things like, ‘Now I can take my mom to the mall.’ ‘We finally went to the zoo.’”

The group gave out 5,000 wheelchairs from 2002, when it was founded by Williams’ brother Don, to 2007. It ran out of funds to purchase more until last year.

Now, the Williams family wants to repeat its previous success. Williams estimates they’ve donated about 600 wheelchairs since restarting their work last year.

Las Vegas resident Joe Franchina, who recently received a wheelchair, said he found the organization after researching the cost of wheelchairs. Back pain and a sciatic nerve prompted him to consider using a wheelchair on a more permanent basis.

“The wheelchair is brand new, taken right out of the box. That surprised me. I expected a wheelchair, but not out of the box,” Franchina said.

Three sizes are currently available: 16 inches, 18 inches and 20 inches. Larger sizes will be shipped to the foundation soon, Williams said. Volunteers deliver the wheelchairs to recipients around the Las Vegas region.

Shavonne Jones said her brother Clavien Tyrone received a wheelchair last week. As the primary caretaker of her 39-year-old brother, who became paralyzed about a decade ago from being shot, she said she had struggled to find a good and affordable wheelchair.

“I’m his sister — I’m trying to do whatever I can,” Shavonne Jones, of Las Vegas, said. “I bought that wheelchair for him, but the tires were flat and had holes in it.”

A social worker referred her to the Wheelchair Foundation, whose volunteers delivered a new, red wheelchair several days later. She’s since received frequent calls from the foundation’s staff and connections to other resources for her brother.

“It’s a blessing,” she said. “ When you don’t have funds and you need some help, you take care of family and you take care of other family, it’s hard. It’s hard on me because I only do what I can for him.”

Wheelchair recipients must be Nevada residents, need it for permanent use and cannot afford one. Visit nevadawheelchairfoundation.org to submit a wheelchair request or call 702-900-3362.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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