TEANECK Take a molded plastic patio chair, add mountain-bike wheels and a steel frame, and you’ve given the gift of mobility to someone who can’t afford a real wheelchair.
That’s the simple idea behind Free Wheelchair Mission (freewheelchairmission.org), a California-based non-profit organization. The students of the Human Rights Committee of Torah Academy of Bergen County here thought the venture was worthy of their support.
Rabbi Avi Pollak and Neal Wigod display an innovative wheelchair.
"I heard about this organization in a documentary about an African athlete with physical disabilities who made it big and brought [Free Wheelchair Mission] into his hometown to provide wheelchairs for people who needed them," said Rabbi Avi Pollak of Bergenfield, faculty adviser for the five-member committee. "The cost per chair is unbelievably cheap only $45, including shipping."
Pollak approached the organization and found out it was planning to send its chairs to poor Jews in Belarus, to be distributed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
"We jumped at the opportunity to be part of that," he said. "We are even working with them to send a couple of students to Belarus to help distribute the chairs in the spring."
On Sunday, the students raised more than $1,000 toward the cause by inviting community children to their school for "Steve Max’s Simon Sez Show." That translates to about ” chairs.
In the spring, the committee will offer a pre-Passover carwash for another cause, to be determined. Last year, a similar event netted $1,800 for Darfur relief, $1,’00 of which went to American Jewish World Service; the other $600 paid for a bus for TABC students to attend the Save Darfur rally in Washington.
The committee had it genesis last year, after junior Neal Wigod of Fair Lawn attended a leadership-training program at Yeshiva University.
"When I came back to school, I knew there was so much going on in the world and we needed a way to make people more aware," said Wigod, now a senior participating in a monthly fellowship program at Y.U. to further his leadership skills.
Pollak, who’s guided the high school’s many community-service efforts for years, said he and Wigod’s group "started looking around to see whom we could help where we haven’t been giving our attention. And at the same time, we started brainstorming about what a high school group could do to raise money rather than just asking people to give. We wanted to provide a service people would appreciate, one where the students could all be a part of the effort. That’s how we came up with the carwash. And we decided to do a fun pre-Chanukah fund-raiser as well."
Wigod said the Human Rights Committee experience "has taught me so much about helping the outside world."
"The educational part of this for the students has been tremendous," said Pollak. "The thought they can be a part of this, by helping to distribute the chairs in Belarus, will take the educational piece to a new universe."