July 23, 2003 Akron Beacon Journal article by Mary Beth Breckenridge
Helping the needy brings blessings
Donated equipment reconditioned. It's sent to disabled In poor countries
Patrick Rimke used to think his work was a blessing to the people he served.
Now he realizes it's the other way around.
Rimke is director of Wheels of Hope, the only paid employee of an organization
that reconditions donated wheelchairs and other medical equipment for people in
impoverished countries, mostly in Central and South America. When he travels to
those countries and sees people receive their equipment, he said, he's moved by
their joy and gratitude.
"When you leave, you always get more than you gave," he said.
Rimke, 52, has been refurbishing wheelchairs for charitable purposes since
1990. That's when a friend named Mark Richard got him involved in a
similar organization called GRACE, the Guatemalan Relief and Craft Exchange.
The two men had met when Rimke was working for Akron-Cleveland Home
Medical Services, where
he repaired medical equipment and built custom wheelchairs, and Richard
gradually drew Rimke into his mission and later employment with Wheels
for the World, a program of the Christian disabilities outreach organization
Joni and Friends.
The deciding factor, Rimke said, was a trip he took to Guatemala with GRACE
in January 1992. "That's when I came home with missionary got-to-go
syndrome," he said, adding with a smile, "That wore off in a couple of weeks."
The need to be a missionary in another country may have ebbed, but the
desire to do missionary work did not. He said he and his wife, Lynda, feel
called to the mission field, and this work is their way of fulfilling that calling.
Wheels of Hope started in 1997, when Wheels for the World changed to
having prisoners recondition its wheelchairs. The two organizations still work
together on some projects, but the smaller Wheels of Hope can respond
faster and more easily to requests for a single wheelchair or a small quantity,
Some of the equipment it refurbishes is donated by Miller's medical
equipment company or by people who no longer need it, but about 90
percent comes from Invacare Corp. The Elyria company donates equipment
that is outdated, damaged or otherwise unsalable.
Wheels of Hope gives the reconditioned equipment away free, but Rimke
said it must go outside the United States to eliminate the possibility of lawsuits
should something go wrong. Most of the equipment goes to Central and
South America, and the organization also works with a missionary team in
Rimke's job involves such tasks as maintaining inventory lists, checking
over equipment to determine what repairs are needed, overseeing the volunteers
who do the reconditioning work at the Canton warehouse and running
organization's office, which is a bedroom in his home in Akron. His
wife is in charge of the organization's Web page and newsletter and serves
board, and their son, Ethan, 17, has traveled with the organization
to Honduras and Thailand.
Rimke works part time for Wheels of Hope, along with working as a
construction subcontractor. "I would love
to do this full time," he said, but he realizes that would involve
a lot of fund-raising work. "And I don't want to do that."
Since 1997, he said, the organization has given away about 5,000
wheelchairs along with other equipment such as crutches, walkers and
oxygen equipment. More importantly to him, those donations have provided
an opportunity for his organization and the churches it works with to
evangelize to the recipients.
Rimke is firm in his belief that the organization's work is divinely directed. As
an example, he recalls a Peruvian parathlete who contacted Wheels of Hope
looking for a specific sport wheelchair that the organization didn't have. "I
told him, 'We need to pray about it,' " Rimke said.
Less than two weeks later, the organization received the exact chair the
athlete wanted, except it was yellow rather than the green he'd requested.
That hardly mattered. "He was overwhelmed with joy," Rimke recalled.
Judging from Rimke's face as he tells the story, the athlete wasn't the only one.
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