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Wheel to Walk organization brainchild of Argay woman


Argay resident Sandy Getman knows that behind every challenge is a solution. She and other volunteers created the Wheel to Walk Foundation to help provide materials and services for handicapped children locally.
Sandy Getman is on a mission.

The Argay resident’s mission? To help children with disabilities live their lives as fully as possible.

Getman, along with other volunteers, operates the Wheel to Walk Foundation, which helps families who have experienced difficulty obtaining funding from their insurance companies in obtaining equipment or services needed by their handicapped children.

Such equipment includes wheelchairs and accessories, wheelchair lifts, special needs swings, special needs strollers and car seats. The foundation has also helped provide high chairs, developmental toys, hospital beds, communication devices, therapy tricycles and bicycles, bath seats and lifts, brace fitting shoes and gait walkers. Speech therapy services along with homecare have also been provided. All free of charge.

The journey began with the birth of Getman’s granddaughter in 1987. In 1988 her granddaughter was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy is a chronic non-contagious disease marked by gradual, but irreversible, muscular deterioration.

“My granddaughter had this spinal muscular atrophy and nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew what muscular dystrophy was. We all sent our checks to the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, but nobody really paid any attention.

“So after I had cried enough to fill the Willamette River,” Getman continued, “I decided that wasn’t doing any good.”

As Getman and her family began attending a special MDA camp at the 132-acre Camp Arrah Wanna in Welches, Ore., she decided she should do something.

“We held a fundraising luncheon in downtown Portland,” she said, “and raised $1,000. And we gave it to MDA, and we wanted it to go to the camp.” When she discovered it wouldn’t necessarily go directly to the camp, Getman and others filed the paperwork to create a nonprofit organization specifically to garner money for the camp.

“We went through the whole procedure,” she said, “so we could do something good.”

Getman admitted that in the beginning of the process, things started slowly. Money trickled in. But the funds would increase.

The first project Wheel to Walk contributed to was paving a section of road at Camp Arrah Wanna, “because all they had at that time was a gravel road.” Getman’s granddaughter and other children couldn’t go to the camp because navigating a gravel road in a wheelchair was exceedingly difficult.

“Well, that was unacceptable,” Getman said of the gravel road. “So we raised $5,000 and paved a portion of the camp road.”

The next year Wheel to Walk bought a lift for placing children into the camp’s swimming pool.

“Then we did some more paving,” she said. “Then we brought a (toilet facility) up to (Americans with Disabilities Act) code.”

Getman’s next move would throw her fledgling organization into high gear.

While volunteering at the camp, Getman overhead one of the parents of a handicapped child say they were “waiting for (health) insurance to kick in” so they could pay for a needed accessory on their child’s wheelchair. The parent said, “We’ve been waiting for a year.”

The proverbial light bulb went on above Getman’s head.

“My daughter, who was at the camp and on the board of directors of Wheel to Walk, looked at me, and we both went, ‘Bingo! That’s it.’”

Getman and others decided to provide money directly to physical therapists at the camp.
In the beginning, only a handful of children were helped. Over the years, literally hundreds of children have benefited from the Wheel to Walk Foundation.

“It caught on,” she explained, “quite well.”

Getman said the organization started with six women, “all with day jobs” — purely voluntary. Over time, two of the women couldn’t continue, another moved out of town, and that left the three remaining organizational leaders on the foundation’s board of directors: Getman, Getman’s daughter Jill Foster and Kelly Holboke.

“Nobody makes a dime,” she emphasized. Getman operates out of a spare room in her Argay home. She said that people are more than willing to give her organization money because there is not the overhead that other charitable organizations may have, like the cost of a staff, a company car or an office.

“The money comes in, the money goes out,” she continued to explain. “If the money’s not there, we just beg a little more. You write a few more letters, show a few more pictures.”

In her home office, a scrapbook features photographs of handicapped young people in wheelchairs, strollers and walkers, all smiling.

Getman is proud to explain where the foundation receives its funds.

She said in December, the foundation held its 16th annual fundraising luncheon.

In the beginning, Getman said, the first luncheon was held in downtown Portland, and approximately 30 people attended. December’s luncheon saw 200 people attend. She said that while the guest speaker is talking, “you can hear a pin drop.” Getman said that for the next few days after the holiday luncheon, “I just get tons of checks in the mail, from $50 to $500, because people have seen and heard” about the cause.

In addition to the fundraising luncheon, Wheel to Walk receives money from the Businesses, Unions, and Legislative Leaders (B.U.L.L.) Session Charity Golf Tournament. The tournament was started in 1990 when local community leaders got together with some local businesses in order to make a positive contribution to children in the community.

The event is held every September with a dinner, auction and golf tournament. To date, B.U.L.L. Session has raised $3,100,000 that is donated to nine different children’s charities.

At first Getman simply volunteered for the B.U.L.L. Session group, but after three years, she stepped up and asked if her foundation could be a recipient of funds raised.

“And they give us a lot of money,” she said. “I feel like we’re right up there with (other charitable organizations), our little Wheel to Walk Foundation.”

Two other sources of funds are private donations from individuals as well as businesses. The list of contributing businesses ranges from the large to the small, national as well as local.

Corporate contributors have included Bed, Bath & Beyond, Broadway Rose Theatre Company, Drake’s 7 Dees, Eola Hills Winery, Franz Bakery, G.I. Joe’s Foundation, Heathman Lodge, Hollywood Video, Judy Marsh Dance Studio, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Old Spaghetti Factory, Oregon Symphony, Panda Restaurant Group, Pastini Pastaria, Portland Marriott Hotel Downtown, Portland Trail Blazers, Refectory Restaurant, Rite-Aid, Sally Mack’s Dance Studio, Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel and Smucker’s Inc.

Getman said that recently she received a check for $1,500 from a business in Tigard. As it turns out, the owner of the business is the grandfather to a little boy the Wheel to Walk Foundation is already helping.

“It’s great that we do so much,” she said in earnest.

“This has gotten bigger than I ever imagined,” she confessed. “It’s like I’m working, having a job. There’s such a need. And there’s no reason why a child shouldn’t be a child.”
Getman shared a success story about a boy named Jimmy.

“He hated therapy,” she said. Wheel to Walk helped Jimmy’s parents receive an adolescent-sized three-wheeled tricycle for riding on the street.

“Well, he’s out now, riding his tricycle with his friends and buddies and brothers and sisters, like all the other kids, and he’s getting so much therapy, but he doesn’t know it. His mother has to curtail his tricycle riding.”

Another success story is a child with a handicap that hasn’t allowed him to walk. Wheel to Walk provided a gait trainer, a device to steady him, and recently he took his first step. Getman shared a note from the parents to Wheel to Walk, and it was filled with heartfelt thanks.

“He wouldn’t have been able to do that,” she said, “because you can’t just have that sort of therapy once a week. You have to have it in your life, all the time. Those are the kind of things that get you. And we hear so many of those stories.”

To date, the organization has raised over a quarter million dollars. In 2006, $83,000 was raised; in 2005 $59,000 was raised.

Getman said that although Wheel to Walk as a concept began in 1988, it wasn’t until the late ‘90s that donations reached a point where significant items could be purchased for families. Over the years, about 300 children have been helped.

For 16-year-old Ernest “E.J.” Reynolds, the son of Gateway residents Laverna and Harold Reynolds, receiving a bath chair through Wheel to Walk was a blessing.

“I’m so grateful that fortune shined on us to provide us the chair,” Laverna told the Memo. “It really helps a lot.”

Born with cerebral palsy, E.J. attends Centennial High School. His mother knows her son’s life was made just a little easier thanks to the help of Wheel to Walk.

“Being handicapped is a full-time job for him,” Laverna said. “I appreciate what Wheel to Walk did for us.”

If you need financial assistance with anything from leg braces and wheelchairs to home care, please contact the Wheel to Walk Foundation, and an application will be sent to you. The mailing address is: Wheel to Walk Foundation, P.O. Box 20146, Portland, OR 97294; the phone number is 503-257-1401; the e-mail address is; and the Web site is
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