Arkansas is known as “The Natural State” with its numerous lakes and rivers, the Ozark Mountains, and more naturally beautiful landscape than most anyone has seen unless they have visited there during the fall colors.

The most attractive feature in the State of Arkansas is its people.  Since 2002, the Rotary Club of Springdale, Arkansas has been one of the most consistent and involved sponsors of wheelchairs to destinations around the world.  Raising funds for more than 1,100 wheelchairs at one club meeting, the Springdale club has sponsored the delivery of more than 10,000 wheelchairs.

Noel Morris, Past President of the Springdale club has headed up the wheelchair program in Northwest Arkansas from the beginning, and has spread the fever of the humanitarian mission to neighboring clubs and districts in several states. Noel serves as the American Wheelchair Mission representative for Rotary District 6110, which covers portions of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.  His wife Sandy started a wheelchair fund raising and education program at the J.O. Kelly Middle School in Springdale, and they have been very successful raising funds, and teaching the kids valuable lessons about giving back to people in need.

Since 2003, the Springdale club has coordinated a wheelchair distribution trip each year so club members and their families could participate in hands on wheelchair deliveries.  They visited both Tepic and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2003 and 2004, Constitucion, La Paz and Los Cabos, Mexico in 2005, Puebla, Mexico in 2006, Zihuatanejo in 2008, Cancun in 2009, Panama in 2010, Jamaica in 2011, and Guanajuato, Mexico this year in 2012. The experiences and relationships that are the best part of a hands on humanitarian relief project, are brought home to be shared with friends and family.  This was the case with Springdale club member Jim Crouch and his wife Cathy.

After attending the wheelchair distributions in 2005 with her daughter Mary Catherine, Cathy Crouch decided to bring the wheelchair mission to the school where she teaches.  At the John Tyson Elementary School, named for the Tyson Foods patriarch who donated the land for the school, Cathy began teaching her gifted and talented children’s class about what it meant to give a wheelchair to a person in a developing country.  An experience that Cathy had just months before.

A small portion of the creative approach that Cathy developed included a note home to parents that read in part, “Mrs. Crouch and the GT students invite you to join us in this Random Act of Kindness as we begin to collect donations for the purchase of wheelchairs for needy people around the world!  Our students will become Entrepreneurs and Philanthropists as they help provide free wheelchairs to people of the world who have no means to acquire one.”

The idea was to have the kids earn the money to be donated for the wheelchair program with a goal of raising $450 total to sponsor the delivery of 6 wheelchairs to Mexico.  Well, the Tyson Tigers really pulled out all the stops and outlined their plans to earn money by doing jobs around the house, cooking dinner, or washing the car.  Each student created a logo and motto for the project and drew a picture of themselves doing the job that would earn the money for the wheelchairs.  They followed the plan, were very successful, and learned that “when you do a good job, you are Human Capital.”

A group of students made a presentation about their project to the Rotary Club of Springdale and raised money on top of what they had earned.  Then on a warm summer day, 500 of the Tyson Tigers proudly marched down Cambridge Street in Springdale to the Tyson Foods headquarters.  Hope Hallam, 7, who uses a walker for mobility, was pushed in a bright red American Wheelchair Mission wheelchair at the front of the parade by student council president Matt Bowen, which allowed Hope to complete the march to Tyson Foods and back. With a large banner proudly displayed, the students were greeted by about 100 Tyson Foods employees and Don Tyson, son of the company founder who spoke to the group.  Tyson foods then added a donation to the pot and the Tyson Tigers had raised $5,400. Enough money to sponsor the delivery of 72 wheelchairs to Mexico. Over the past seven years the Tyson Tigers have raised $45,000!! Go Tigers!

In a parent evaluation form that was sent home with each student, a mother wrote, “Having our students “work” for money rather than asking for donations made a big impact.  You are showing our kids they can make a difference in the world! Thank you!”

The seeds that were planted by the Springdale Rotarians in the beautiful landscape of NW Arkansas are paying off in human capital, random acts of kindness and making a difference in the world.

The global wheelchair mission is grateful to the people of NW Arkansas for the tremendous efforts put forth on behalf of people without mobility.