Noel Morris is motivated. As an instructor for the Department of Finance at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, he enjoys teaching and working directly with students. He loves his wife and two adult sons and delights in spending time with his granddaughter. Yet a service project outside of home and career has created additional purpose, joy and satisfaction and has changed his life in the process.
“I think I know why I’m here,” Morris said. “Next to raising my two boys, this is the most significant thing I’ve done.”
Working with his local Rotary Club in Springdale, Arkansas, Rotary District 6110 and American Wheelchair Mission – a nonprofit based in Henderson, Nevada – Morris has been raising funds and awareness for the purchase and delivery of wheelchairs for those in need in third world countries. Morris didn’t go looking for this project – it came to him.
In 2002, Morris was the incoming president for his Rotary Club, an international service organization dedicated to creating a better world. He attended an international Rotarian conference at which Chris Lewis, the president of the American Wheelchair Mission, introduced a wheelchair initiative. Morris’ local chapter adopted the service project, purchased wheelchairs and delivered them to disabled children and adults in Mexico.
“You would think after 16 years I’d be a little jaded, but this last trip was the best,” Morris said.
According to the World Health Organization, 65 million people need a wheelchair. Those in need who happen to live in a developing country face severe challenges in accessing a wheelchair, attending school, securing a job and enjoying basic quality of life.
The American Wheelchair Mission estimates the need even higher at 100 million people who are in need of a wheelchair.
The need is plainly apparent for the Rotarians as they deliver wheelchairs to mobility limited adults or children carried by their parents. Mobility issues affect the entire family. A wheelchair can allow parents to move older, heavier children. Parents can attend work and children can attend school. Wheelchairs can give owners self respect and power over their own lives.
Video courtesy of American Wheelchair Mission.
“I can easily say Noel’s actions in coordinating and distributing wheelchairs has changed the lives of literally thousands of families,” said Randy Hale, a photographer who has recorded eight years of wheelchair deliveries for the American Wheelchair Mission.
Morris shared a memory of Javier, a wheelchair recipient in Mexico who became paralyzed after falling out of a coconut tree at work. The father of two girls, Javier had been restricted to a bed for nine years. He heard about the wheelchair distribution and, even though he was not on recipient list, dragged himself to a taxi and approached the wheelchair give-away. The Rotarians made sure to find an extra wheelchair for him.
Morris said that Javier’s response was “You’ve made me a man again.” Now he can hold a job and help his young daughters get to school.
When delivering the chairs in Mexico, the Springdale Rotarians partner with the American Wheelchair Mission and the Center for Rehabilitation Infantile Telethon and local Rotarians. The center and the local Rotary Club each develop a list of those in need. The center provides rehabilitation for the wheelchair recipients as well.
As children grow older, they bring back their chairs to get a larger chair. In turn, the chair is refurbished and re-distributed to others in need. The cost of one shipping container with 280 wheelchairs is $42,000, plus shipping.
The Rotarians in Springdale target those with mobility limitations outside the United States because many inside the United States can qualify for a wheelchair through insurance programs, Veteran Affairs or Medicaid. Other countries do not have similar health care initiatives.
Morris is a member of the Rotary Club in Springdale and serves as the Rotary’s district chair for the wheelchair initiative. He also serves on the board of the American Wheelchair Mission. On a regular basis, Morris speaks to other Rotary Clubs and community groups about the service project.