Danville Express

Newsfront - December 21, 2007

Ken Behring regales students with wheelchair tales

One disabled boy just wanted to feel the sun on his shoulders

by Natalie O'Neill

Money only takes you so far - then you have to find other things to make you happy. That's what former Seattle Seahawks owner and Blackhawk developer Ken Behring told fifth-graders at Greenbrook Elementary School last week.

The classes he spoke to are raising money by recycling cans and bottles in order to donate to Behring's nonprofit Wheelchair Foundation. Students listened quietly as he praised them for helping less fortunate young people.

"There are a lot of poor places in the world, where kids don't have a chance to be leaders like you," he told them.

He then recalled a few short stories about disabled people he encountered in developing countries - to illustrate whom their money will be helping.

"If you're born with a disability in those countries, you're thrown in the back and your family is ashamed of you," he explained.

Behring began the Wheelchair Foundation in 2000 with a pledge of $15 million. His mission was to raise international awareness about people with physical disabilities, along with creating independence for them through mobility.

One story he told was about a boy with cerebral palsy he met overseas. After he gave the child a wheelchair, the boy asked, "Do you know where my father is?"

"He knew someone had just dumped him," Behring told the audience of wide-eyed 11-year-olds.

In those countries, a wheelchair gives you the ability to move - and ultimately a reason to live.

"They are the same as you, except they don't have control of their body," he said. "They aren't able to communicate, but you look in their eyes and you can tell they appreciate it."

Teacher Pam Vamvouris said the effort to donate money to the foundation is part of character education.

"We wanted to teach them that even at their age they can give back," she said.

Through interpreters, several disabled children abroad have told Behring that having the wheelchair has been the difference between wanting to live and wanting to die, he said. He illustrated that through another story.

There was a young man who spent most of his life lying inside in the dark, on rags in the back of the house. Without the ability to walk or move his body, he was stuck there.

With the help of a translator, he told Behring all he'd ever wanted to do in life was sit in the sun, something we take for granted. After he received a wheelchair he could go outside and see the world. He could be pushed around - and he could feel the sun on his shoulders.

"You have to let them know you care, these people don't think anybody cares," he said.

Behring wore a big smile as the kids asked him questions they prepared for him ahead of time. They wanted to know what countries he had gone to, how many wheelchairs had been donated, and what made him want to start the foundation.

The Wheelchair Foundation has donated over 650,000 chairs in more than 145 countries worldwide including Africa, the Middle East and South America.

As for what prompted him to start the foundation? When you've got everything - giving is the only thing left to do, he said.

To find out more or donate to the Wheelchair Foundation, visit www.wheelchairfoundation.org.


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