Don’s Story: Free

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Consider the words of Don Schoendorfer, President and CEO of the Free Wheelchair Mission: “I used to think that I would make sure my family was all settled then I would give back in a big way, now I know that thinking is wrong.” Who is Don you might ask? This is his story:

Don Schoendorfer is an unassuming suburban engineer from Irvine, California, who had an idea for a low-cost wheelchair and built one in his garage. He had been shaken by what he had seen on a trip to Morocco with his wife in the 1970s, where they encountered a disabled woman who was unable to walk, literally crawling across the street on all fours. She would be the first of thousands Don would notice around the world who had no hope of a standard wheelchair, which in the U.S. can cost up to $1,000. His idea was to build a cheap, easy-to-repair wheelchair out of Huffy bicycle tires and the standard-issue white plastic lawn chair. As of this writing, his experiment has lifted over 636,405 of the world’s poorest people from a life in the dirt to one of dignity.

Don was recently presented with the “Above and Beyond” award, which is given to three civilians each year who have performed extraordinary acts of service. The award is chosen by another group of extraordinary individuals—those who themselves received the Congressional Medal of Honor for acts of bravery defending our country on the battlefield.

Don’s ultimate goal is to distribute 20 million wheelchairs, 20 percent of the estimated world need. To see the impact of his efforts, visit his website: To hear our interview with Don, please visit

“The person who has the vision has the job!” says our friend Dave Coen, head of Threads Africa, a nonprofit that reaches out to those who live in the shantytowns of South Africa. He believes that whoever has the passion for a need may just be the one called to do something about it.

Excerpted from Fire Your Excuses.

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