Editor’s Note: Scott Phillips of Gardendale, AL is the founder and president of the Outdoor Ability Foundation, a non-profit that equips wheelchair users with the adaptive equipment they need to participate in outdoor sports. This includes providing track chairs for individuals who want to go deeper into the woods. The foundations also helps disabled outdoors enthusiasts to purchase a chair, adaptive water ski equipment, cranks for crossbows, pop-up blinds for hunters or photographers, gun stands, adaptive fishing gear and almost any type of equipment that enables people with disabilities to enjoy sports in the outdoors.
My son, Grayson Phillips, grew up with Spina Bifida but always wanted to go hunting. Because I didn’t grow up with a hunting background, we didn’t have the equipment or the knowledge to take Grayson on an adapted outing. The only wheelchair that Grayson had at that time was a manual wheelchair. The house we live in backs up to the woods, so as soon as Grayson could roll his chair outside, he was always trying to catch frogs and turning over rocks to see what was living under them. He seemed to have been born with an innate love of the outdoors.
When Grayson couldn’t get his wheelchair to where he wanted to go, he’d get out of his wheelchair and crawl on the ground.
Grayson got involved in Boy Scouts and today is currently working on his Eagle project in hopes of becoming an Eagle Scout. Although we’d been involved in camping and fishing, Grayson became almost addicted to watching outdoor TV shows. I saw the passion for hunting growing in him. Grayson told me, “Dad, that’s what I want to do. I want to go hunting.” I said, “Okay, that’s what we’ll do. I don’t know how, where or when, but I’ll find a way.”
The first hunt we went to was the Lawrence County Handicap Association Hunt in Georgia. We’ve also hunted with Outdoor Friends Forever, Kids Outdoors, Kids Hunt for a Cure, Camo Dreams, which is a part of Kids Outdoors, and several other outdoor hunting organizations that promote and sponsor hunts for kids with disabilities.
Basically all I did was call these organizations on the telephone, tell them about Grayson, explain that I had little or no knowledge about hunting, and that we didn’t have any adaptive equipment for Grayson. They all said, “We’ll find a way.”
One of the advantages that Grayson and I had as we journeyed down our road to become hunters was that my wife Kathleen grew up in Arkansas and knew folks who hunted. When I told her that Grayson wanted to go hunting, Kathleen’s answer was, “Okay, let’s go do it!”
Grayson and I went on a turkey hunt about 3 years ago. Two guides helped us with Grayson in his manual chair, and all three of us were in a pop-up blind. One of the guides went outside the blind and started calling to the turkeys. Since we heard the turkeys gobble back, we knew where they were. However, we couldn’t move any closer to them, due to Grayson’s chair. We made the decision that the only chance Grayson would have to take a turkey was if we carried him, his chair, the blind and the other equipment we had and moved closer to the turkeys. I really wished we would have had someone with a video camera videoing our parade of hunters trying to move quietly – carrying all that gear and attempting to sneak closer to a turkey. When we finally got set-up on the turkey, I thought, “There’s got to be a better way for Grayson to hunt.”
Once we returned home, I researched several different types of all-terrain wheelchairs. One day we took Grayson and let him test drive an Action Track Chair, and he fell in love with that chair. However, when we learned that the base price of this chair was $10,000, I told the dealer “Well, that chair’s really nice, and we’ll look into the possibility of getting a chair like this for Grayson.” But I was also thinking “Who has an extra $10,000 in their savings account to buy one of those chairs? Certainly not us.”
We’d pretty much put the Action Track Chair on the back burner. However, then I got a call in September, 2014, from the Track Chair salesman who told me, “I’ve got a lead on a used Track Chair. The owner of the chair passed away, and his son and his wife want to sell the chair at a reduced price of $8,000.” “
Well, I still don’t have $8,000.00,” I told the salesmen, “but let me see what I can do.”
I went online and set up a GoFundMe account. My family and friends used Facebook and social media to spread the word to help us raise the money needed to buy Grayson an Action Track Chair. Basically, we raised the money that we needed through word of mouth, and through the help of many people to buy the chair for Grayson.
We drove to Florida from Alabama to the home of the people with the Track Chair. Once we purchased the chair, the first thing we did was go to the beach. Our family hadn’t been to the beach for nearly seven years, since Grayson’s manual wheelchair wouldn’t roll in the sand. But once Grayson got the Track Chair, he had so much fun going everywhere he wanted to go on the beach.
I realized that Track Chair was freedom and independence for Grayson. One of Grayson’s goals in hunting was to be able to drag his deer out of the woods like all of the other hunters did, and last year he accomplished that goal with the aid of his Action Track Chair. Grayson today has become quite an accomplished hunter.
Kathleen and my daughter, Corinne, always had dreamed that Grayson could become more independent.
Watching Grayson in that motorized all-terrain chair, we saw that dream begin to come true.
With that chair, he could go out in the woods and fields and to lakes and the beach all by himself. You can’t imagine the overwhelming feeling of pride and accomplishment that we felt for Grayson – to see him go wherever he wanted to, whenever he was ready. The Track Chair not only gave Grayson access to the great outdoors but also enabled him to carry his own equipment with the other scouts camping and hiking.
Grayson plays wheelchair basketball with the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, so we’ve met many other people who use wheelchairs and other types of adaptive equipment. We also recognize the financial needs of Grayson’s friends and their families, which are similar to ours. We realize that most of the families who have children or other members of their families with disabilities probably don’t have the finances to purchase adaptive equipment, just like us.
Our family looked for ways to help those families purchase adaptive equipment, if they didn’t have the money, just like we didn’t, to buy that equipment. We also noticed that youngsters with disabilities had a better chance of getting adaptive equipment than older people with disabilities, although they had a love of the outdoors too.
I talked with an accountant and an attorney, whose father was in a wheelchair during the latter part of his life. The attorney’s father had loved to fish, but he couldn’t get down to the lake or pond in his manual wheelchair. When our family told our attorney what we were considering, he immediately said,
“My father would have appreciated the help of the Outdoor Ability Foundation to enable him to continue to fish.”
When we told Grayson what we were thinking about doing, he said what most 15-year-olds would say, “That’s cool, Dad.”
The first family that the Outdoor Ability Foundation helped was a family in Georgia. This young man had severe cerebral palsy, but he loved to hunt and fish and be outdoors. Since his parents were killed in an automobile accident, he lived with his grandparents, who cared for him. This young man had a power chair, but to transport the power chair to different locations, the grandmother and granddaddy had to lift the chair and put it in the back of a pickup. The Outdoor Ability Foundation’s first project was to get a power lift to attach to the back of a pickup truck, so the grandparents didn’t have to lift, load and unload the power chair.
Our second project was for Grayson’s friend, Tucker Wick, who also has spina bifida. Tucker loves to fish and enjoys being in the outdoors as much as Grayson does. But Tucker has physical challenges just like Grayson. Tucker’s father, Skip, and mother, Christie, approached us and said they’d like to get a chair like Grayson has for Tucker. We got involved through the Outdoor Ability Foundation in fundraising for Tucker and held a wide variety of various fundraising events to help Tucker obtain a Track Chair. We rented a booth at a sports and outdoor show, held raffles and encouraged people to donate money for the chair. Finally the Foundation got Tucker a used Track Chair.
Recently I’ve talked to a young lady on Facebook who wants to start hunting with a crossbow. I’ve told her we’ll to provide a crank to cock the crossbow and also a stand to rest the crossbow on while she’s hunting or shooting. As soon as we get her application, we’ll start working to provide that equipment. We’ve had six other people contact us from Alabama, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois and Indiana who want the Outdoor Ability Foundation to help them raise money for adaptive equipment – particularly Track Chairs like Grayson has. However, that’s a pretty big load for our second year of fundraising. Right now we’ve got a fishing tournament scheduled and several other fundraising events set for 2016 for the Foundation to raise money.
Donate Your Used Adaptive Equipment to the Outdoor Ability Foundation
We’re always on the lookout for used adaptive equipment that can help people with disabilities get into the outdoors. For instance, a policeman who had lost his leg and had a Track Chair got a new prosthetic that allowed him to go anywhere he wanted to go and do anything he wanted to do. Since he no longer had a need for the Track Chair, he contacted us to bless someone else with it.
To notify us about adaptive equipment that you may want to donate or that the Foundation may be able to buy at a reduced price, you can contact us at www.outdoorabilityfoundation.com.
We also have a page on Facebook for the Outdoor Ability Foundation, or you can contact me directly at email@example.com. All donations are tax deductible, and we certainly will appreciate the help of any company that wants to donate equipment that we can auction off to raise money. We’ll continue to have info on our website about the different fundraising events that we’ll have throughout 2016.
More Fundraising Help from Wheel:Life
10 Fundraising Ideas to Help People Who Have Disabilities
In this book, you’ll review 10 brainstorming ideas for different types of fundraiser events to benefit an individual with a disability who needs assistance for medical equipment, physical rehabilitation, adaptive sports equipment or daily medical needs.
Throughout the book, author Lisa Wells shares real-life examples and success stories from her interactions with disability advocates, non-profit supporters and Wheel:Life members throughout a healthcare marketing career that spans more than 20 years on three continents.
10 Fundraising Ideas to Help People with Disabilities features interviews from:
• Paralympian Bert Burns on how he raised support to begin his career in wheelchair racing
• Project Walk Atlanta participant Leslie Ostrander on how she raised money for additional rehab
• The founders of 100 Songs for Kids on their annual music event to benefit children’s medical charities
• Rolling Inspiration creator Chris Salas on how he lined up sponsors for his SCI peer support group
and power soccer team
• The creators of Hunter’s Torch Daylily Garden, a fundraising resource for a child with special needs.
• The Independence Fund – a little known source of financial support for disabled US veterans.
About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.