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Part 1: Local boy enjoys freedom and mobility thanks to work of inmates

(WBAY)
Published: Apr. 11, 2018 at 4:13 PM CDT
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Joseph Towne is all smiles in his new motorized wheelchair. The five-year-old Fond du Lac boy now has freedom and mobility like he's never had.

Joseph has cerebral palsy, but he doesn't let it limit his mission to take on the world.

Joseph is one of thousands of people benefiting form a little-known program offering refurbished wheelchairs and medical equipment to Wisconsinites in need.

It's where the equipment comes from and how it gets repaired that makes it affordable--and unique. The work is done by inmates at one of Wisconsin's medium security prisons.

This is a story you'll see only on Action 2 News.

A RIDE OF HIS OWN

A few months ago, Joseph Towne's mom decided that a walker wasn't the best fit for her son. For his safety -- and to help him grow and learn at school -- she started searching for wheelchairs.

These wheelchairs can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Insurance covers only a little of that cost.

The Towne family's luck changed when they found a refurbished wheelchair at the Mobility Store.

Joseph took it on a test run.

"It brought tears to my eyes. I had to step out. I just couldn't even... it was just amazing to me to see him so excited to be able to zoom around and not have to work so hard at it," said Melinda Towne, Joseph's mom.

Julie Schulz is director for Mobility Stores.

"The most important piece to us is they get what they need when they need it, not when they can afford it," Schultz says. "Because the absence of that means they're not living in their communities, not involved in family activities."

LEARNING SKILLS AND GIVING BACK

The work of cleaning and repairing Joseph's wheelchair -- and thousands of other pieces of medical equipment -- is done by inmates at Redgranite Correctional.

"I'm actually honored to be able to have the program here," says Michael Meisner, the warden at Redgranite Correctional. "It gives them, the inmates, an opportunity come down and learn some valuable skills and give back to the community."

Inmates take apart donated chairs and equipment. They sanitize and clean every piece, down to the screws. They scrub the pieces with a toothbrush.

"Every single piece comes off the chair," said one inmate. "It's a pretty big deal."

The inmates put the pieces back together. They fix damaged parts and make them like new again.

"I'm very proud of what I do, because I know I'm paying back to somebody that really needs it, so I like it," said one inmate.

It's a very detailed process. The inmates draw pictures because they do not have manuals.

This program is also making a big difference to veterans, including those who go on the Old Glory Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

Independence First is taking donations of wheelchairs and other equipment.