Free Wheelchair Mission

Like any true Oregonian, I get excited over people recycling. With America on its green kick, recycling is becoming more and more common to see in organizations. But Free Wheelchair Mission takes recycling to a new level with their unique idea of using old bicycles and lawn chairs to provide much needed wheelchairs to the disabled in developing countries.


Image from Free Wheelchair Mission

 Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) began in 1999, when founder Don Schoendorfer put his plan into action to help the people he’d visited in Morocco twenty years earlier. Schoendorfer, who has his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, came up with the design for a simple wheelchair that could handle the uneven, rural roads and was inexpensive to produce.


The average cost for a manual wheelchair ranges anywhere from $200 to $1100. Free Wheelchair Mission has figured out how to produce and ship wheelchairs for $52, and with no cost to the disabled person receiving it. With $52, FWM is able to provide mobility and restore dignity for the over 100,000,000 disabled adults and children in developing countries, giving them a chance at a better life. FWM sends wheelchairs to the disabled in five different continents and 74 different countries


The wheelchair is made up of everyday recycled items lying around the average American’s home. The seat is made out of an old plastic lawn chair. This is perfect because it’s durable, waterproof and moderately comfortable for long periods of time.



Image from Disability World

Drilling holes into the arms and legs allows it to be mounted on to the frame. The wheels are made from recycled mountain bike wheels. FWM uses a different wheelchair hub than what is found on most mountain bikes, making it considerably stronger. The mountain bike wheels give the wheelchair mobility through rough terrain. Eight inch castors are used for the front wheels, and the frame is made from bendable steel conduit. Volunteers assemble the wheelchair onsite after delivery. 


In 2004, the wheelchair was upgraded by a new wheelchair supplier, now providing side panels that protect from anything kicked up from the moving wheels. The new design also includes hand-rims on the wheels, making it easier and cleaner for the user to move. There is now a footrest to make it easier to get in and out of the wheelchair, and the axle is larger, making the chair more durable and propel easier once in motion. The new additions to the wheelchairs didn’t cost FWM any more money to produce, a very exciting discovery for the company.



I never realized how many people in the world were in need of a wheelchair. We always worry about the hungry and homeless in impoverished nations, but the immobile seem to slip under the radar. A disabled adult or child in a developing country is forced to crawl to get around, or wait for family members to carry them. I definitely take for granted my mobility and the technology we have access to in our nation for those who are disabled. Free Wheelchair Mission is really a great cause that provides a huge need in the world.


Check out Free Wheelchair Mission’s website.



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Blue Button Apparel



World Marsh image

Image from World Marsh

I discovered Blue Button Apparel this fall as my residence hall’s senator chose to print our annual hall sweatshirts through this company. Blue Button is found right here in Spokane, a local organization with a very unique cause.


Blue Button Apparel was started when Scott Ellis, a Whitworth graduate, got involved with the homeless children of Roger’s High School. His church had been donating hygiene products and clothes to these kids as Christmas presents. Ellis decided, after his coffee shop endeavor failed, to start a business where he could offer these kids after-school work.


Blue Button Apparel is a non profit organization that provides work for the homeless high school students of Roger’s High School 2-3 days a week. Most of these kids don’t have social security card or birth certificate and are therefore unable to get a job on their own. Ellis’ objective is to teach these kids how to interview for jobs, give them important professional skills, and give them a good reference for their resume when they graduate and begin looking for work.


These kids have so often been overlooked; it’s really refreshing to find people who are giving them a chance to succeed later on.


But that’s not all Blue Button focuses on. They also have an interesting environmental approach to the company. Blue Button Apparel uses only organic cotton manufactured with wind power, according to the website. They also only use soy-based cleaners and biodegradable inks for their products.


Blue Button also buys only from apparel producers who treat their employees justly. In a world where Wal Mart reigns through cheap products and child labor, this is a distinctive idea.


If you are in need of some printed apparel for a team or function, check out Blue Button. The prices are reasonable, and the intent is invaluable.


Visit Blue Button Apparel’s homepage.


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TOMS shoes


TOMS shoes is the company that inspired me to write this blog. I discovered TOMS when I lived in Southern California this past summer and watched as the hip kids melted for this new style of shoe. They come in every color, pattern and size and even vary in material. Yet the model of the shoe is unmistakably unique to the company, as is their objective for business.


TOMS began in May 2006, founded by Blake Mycoskie. Mycoskie got the idea for the slip-on style of shoe made with lightweight fabric from the traditional alpargata after his trip to Argentina. The poverty and health issues he encountered on his trip hit Mycoskie pretty hard and moved him to market alpargatas in the US to help the poor in Argentina. His idea was to match every pair of shoes in the US sold with a pair to a child in need. TOMS’ slogan of One for One is a fresh way of helping the poor that has caught Americans’ interest and is becoming somewhat of an icon.


The disease that TOMS is helping to eradicate is Podoconiosis. It’s a disease that is transferred by walking or working barefoot in volcanic soil that is rich in silica, which is a fairly common practice in rural parts of developing countries. The disease causes ulcers, extreme swelling, and deformity in the legs. Many countries in Africa, Central America and northern India are affected by this debilitating disease. In Ethiopia, between five hundred thousand and one million people are afflicted by Podoconiosis. Those afflicted experience intense pain and are considered pariahs in their society, no longer able to work to support themselves. It’s a serious problem with a fairly easy solution. If those living in the areas with silica-rich soil had shoes to wear consistently from early childhood, they would be able to avoid the disease. TOMS shoes is working to provide durable footwear to at-risk children living in these dangerous areas in the world. I got my information and statistics from the TOMS website, so they have done their research and really know their stuff.


Sounds cool, right? You can easily support TOMS by buying a pair of their shoes. The best part is, you’re not simply giving the company money, you’re getting a great product out of it, too. You can buy online at their website or search for stores near you that carry TOMS shoes.



Image from the Green Loop Blog

 If you really want to get involved, you can apply to go on a TOMS shoe drop. Apply online to get the chance to go on a trip to take the shoes directly to the kids in need. It would be an amazing experience and a great way to get involved with a cause.


TOMS is planning to give 200,000 pairs of shoes to children in need around the world. This is truly a cool cause and I urge everyone to check out TOMS shoes and support the organization.


Visit TOMS shoes homepage at



I chose to write about this company because I really believe in what they’re doing. I think so many people assume they don’t have the power to actually help or make a difference in the world. They see ads for impoverished and malnourished children with swollen bellies and sallow faces, but they don’t see how giving money to an organization will actually help them in the end. It won’t end world hunger, and millions of children will still be dying. But to really make a difference, you don’t have to start a movement and do something big. Just donating a pair of shoes can prevent a lot for these kids. I know that TOMS is changing the world in a great way, and I think everyone should be aware of their cause.



Image from Fresh Peel


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Hello and welcome to my blog, Cool Causes! This is my first time ever blogging so please be kind and give me helpful feedback on any and all aspects of my blog. The title is Cool Causes because I want to highlight just that, organizations that do unique and interesting things for others or the environment. I’ll tell you how the organization started, what they do, their upcoming projects, and how you can get involved. There are a lot of awesome people out there doing some creative things to help this world and I feel it important to report these great organizations to you. Enjoy!




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