"Helping is more than our hobby," reads the slogan for Freedom Chairs
, a non-profit organization that transforms old wheelchairs for those in need.
Since the organization began, founder and CEO Tim Balz
has combined his technical robotic skills with his inventive spirit to give the gift of mobility in his hometown of Indiana and beyond. Check out our exclusive Q&A with the August HALO Effect Honoree, and learn more about Tim's incredibly inspiring story!
What inspired you to begin your organization Freedom Chairs? How did you come to focus on this specific cause?
During my sophomore year of high school I noticed a student named Steven Scholl who was stuck in the hallway because he was unable to move his manual wheelchair. I got in contact with his parents and asked why he wasn't using an electric wheelchair, and they said that his insurance denied the request because he wasn't "disabled enough." I tried to fix a wheelchair that my neighbor gave me to play with on our FIRST Robotics team, but it turned out to be unfix-able. I was determined to help my new friend Steven so I traded my moped for a wheelchair that was repairable. I customized the wheelchair to be exactly what Steven needed and gave it to him just before he graduated. The smile he had when we gave him the wheelchair was so incredible that I developed a passion for helping people in similar situations to Steven, and that's how Freedom Chairs started.
How has Freedom Chairs grown since it started in 2011?
Freedom Chairs has given away more than 85 wheelchairs since we started in 2011. We have dozens of wheelchairs in our workshop and have work days nearly every weekend to repair and rebuild wheelchairs.
What is the process that goes into building a Freedom Chair? What kinds of features does a typical wheelchair have?
When we get an old chair donated to us, it is typically in pretty poor condition. We tear the chair down and repair anything that isn't in like-new condition, and rebuild it to make is as though the recipient gets a brand new chair. A typical wheelchair will have an assortment of features ranging from power seating to lights and turn signals. We have even gotten a few chairs that use head control for someone who is paralyzed.
How did you learn how to customize these electric wheelchairs?
I learned to customize the wheelchairs through the skills I gained in FIRST Robotics, and the countless hours spent tinkering with the chairs that were donated. I would try to understand how and why everything worked on the chair.
With Freedom Chairs, you saw a peer in need and took action. What advice would you give to someone who has a desire to help others, but doesn't know where to start?
If someone has a desire to help others, the most important advice that I can give is to look for ways to make a difference, because not everyone in need has a voice. Volunteering for community service through school clubs is how I got started helping others, so that is a great place to start. The biggest thing is to never let people convince you that someone else will come along and fill a need that you find.
To learn more about Tim and his organization, check out the clip below!