Peninsula Rotarians bring light to those who travel in wheelchairs

Pastor David George of the New Life Assembly of God Church in Ilwaco and Long Beach Police Chief David Sexton install a light set to the motorized wheelchair of Seaview's Charlotte Smith. The two are members of the Rotary Club which have begun giving away the sets to people in need. DAMIAN MULINIX photo

LONG BEACH - Peninsula Rotarians are hoping to light up some lives, maybe saving some lives in the process.

Members of the Rotary Club, a community service organization, recently began looking around to find projects they could do to make a difference.

"In the midst of looking for these great big projects, someone had mentioned one time that they almost clipped somebody in a motorized wheelchair at night because they had no lights," said Pastor David George of the New Life Assembly of God Church in Ilwaco and Rotary Club member.

That's when the light bulb went off - they would find a way to illuminate these vehicles to improve safety for those who drive them.

They bought bicycle head and tail light sets and have been giving them to people with motorized wheelchairs.

The set is made up of a clear light that shines in front and a red blinking light attached to the back, both powered by a couple AA batteries. The cost is minimal for the club, about $25 per set. They also install the lights to the wheelchairs free of charge.

"It's really great for us," said George, "because we don't have a lot of money in the club. But it gave us an opportunity to really do something that mattered and have it low cost."

Recently, they installed a set to Charlotte Smith's motorized wheelchair.

"It will make it a lot safer," said Smith. "People will be able to see me better."

She knows how much something like this could help - she was involved in a collision two years ago, struck by a truck while trying to cross the street in her wheelchair.

"God was with me, all the way," said Smith. "That chair broke in half and it protected me."

She said having the lights on her wheelchair will give her an extra sense of comfort when traveling at night.

George said he hopes that this will be a project that will continue as more find out about it.

"We're hoping it will generate some other people who'll step up," he said.

The Rotarians started out with just five people in need, and they are finding new people all the time who would like lights installed.

"It's just a matter of getting it on there," said George.

And the installation can be tricky. Every model that they have come across so far has been different.

Citizens with motorized wheelchairs fall under many of the same rules as bicycles, as far as traffic laws are concerned. They can travel in the bike lane or on the sidewalk if available. However, they aren't supposed to travel in the same lane as traffic - this is where safety issues arise.

"We have a lot of areas, especially in Seaview and Long Beach that don't have sidewalks or lighting," said George.

The Rotarians have another project that they are working on for the future, providing haircuts for low-income students at the beginning of the school year.

George said they also plan to check up on the light set recipients in the future to make sure fresh batteries are being used. He advises anyone who would like a free light set for their wheelchair to contact him at (360) 642-3400.

"It's very low cost, but I hope it makes a big impact," he said.

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