PET Projects Bring Mobility to Many

When most visitors go to Florida, they often wind up at some of the state’s many tourist attractions–the Everglades, the Kennedy Space Center, Disney World, Daytona Beach–to mention a few.  But none of those spots were on my itinerary when I went to the state recently.  It was my first trip there since I was kid vacationing with my parents. And one of the reasons I travelled from one tip of the country to the other, was to spend a little time with my 89-year-old uncle.

Then: My uncle in uniform waves to us from the dock near his aircraft carrier
Then: My uncle in uniform waves to us from the dock near his aircraft carrier

Red, as most people know him, is an old salt whose career with the Navy began when he ran away from home as a teenager, signed up under age during World War II and then toured the world mostly on aircraft carriers to become a Master Chief Petty Officer asked to go to the Pentagon, a job he turned down. But I know him as the uncle who was full of shenanigans as a boy, plays harmonica, sews and can tell a tale with the best of them.

Now: At 89, my uncle still stands tall in our family.
Now: At 89, my uncle still stands tall in our family.

I visited him at his retirement community where he now lives, Penney Farms, about 50 miles south of Jacksonville. It’s a thriving little place that was established in 1926 by the department store tycoon, J.C. Penney as somewhere for his parents, who were in the ministry, and others like them could retire. The population who reside there now, like my uncle, come from varied backgrounds. It’s a lovely spot with 93 cottages, an apartment complex, health facilities, a gym, an arts center, a non-denominational church, and a beautiful Norman-styled architecture dining hall where I had breakfast with my uncle every morning.

The Quad outside Penney Farm's dining hall is peaceful and inviting.
The Quad outside Penney Farm’s dining hall is peaceful and inviting.

My uncle gave me the grand tour which besides the stops I’ve already listed, also included the workshop where he spends two mornings a week.  This is not, however, your ordinary workshop for hobbyists who like to putter at building a birdhouse or maybe a sign for the front door. This is serious stuff.

The workshop at Penney Farms turns out PET carts that are shipped around the world.
The workshop at Penney Farms turns out PET carts that are shipped around the world.

Those who come here are all dedicated volunteers who collectively construct wooden carts that are shipped, literally, all over the world to those who are leg disabled. It is part of a much larger project known as the Personal Energy Transportation Mobility Project, or PET for short.

Paint Stop
The wooden carriages for the PET carts are given colorful coats of paint.

Begun in 1994 by missionaries Larry Hills, Mel West and engineer Earl Miner. PET was intended to provide a means of mobility to persons who had been victims of polio or landmines. The first of these went to where Hills was posted in Zaire. But word about their effort and project quickly spread until today, PET ships, through its 26 affiliate workshops, thousands of these carts to 101 countries.  Carts crafted at the Penny Farms workshop alone have gone to 93 countries.

The tablesaw is used by my uncle to cut the boards for the cart's body.
The table saw is used by my uncle to cut the boards for the cart’s body.

Those who volunteer at the Penney Farms workshop, like my uncle, each have a specific job to do in manufacturing the cart.  My uncle’s is to cut to size the boards needed for the body. Another tugs and pulls to upholster the seat cushions; another cuts the drive chains to an exact length and others give them the final coats of colorful paint. Most, but not all, who come here, reside at Penney Farms.

One of the PET volunteers cuts the chain for the drive gear to an exact size.
One of the PET volunteers cuts the chain for the drive gear to an exact size.

The ingenuous design of these mobility miracles has evolved over the years.  Padded seats were added, wooden handles were switched to heavy-duty plastic, tires were improved and a storage bin included beneath for carrying goods and other items.  But they all still substitute a hand crank for foot pedals to power it and make it affordable to PET’s partners who supply those in poor, underdeveloped countries. As a result, more than 57,000 people have been lifted off their knees and out of the dirt.

The steering bars with their plastic handles hang waiting for installation.
The steering bars with their plastic handles hang waiting for installation.

Sure, it’s not the high technology that visitors will see when they go to the Kennedy Space Center, but the good it’s accomplishing is beyond technology.  And those I met who volunteer in the Penney Farms workshop obviously love the camaraderie and the purpose of what they are building there.  Might not be on your list of places to go next time you visit Florida, but I’m glad it was on mine.

During my visit, I hopped onto one of the carts and gave it go.
During my visit, I hopped onto one of the carts and gave it go.

 

One on One with Beatle Paul

When I was kid, my parents often sat down on Sunday evenings to rest and relax watching their favorite television programs. For my dad, it was the Western about the Cartwright family, “Bonanza”. For my mom, it was the variety show hosted by the radio announcer turned TV personality, Ed Sullivan. My childhood favorite was “Lassie,” about the heroics of a talented and loving collie that aired earlier than my parents’ picks. Most of the time I didn’t care which of the two programs they watched as I liked both. Until February, 1964.

IMG_0961Bow
The Beatles take a bow after their performance onstage.

I had heard at school from some friends who had older siblings that Ed Sullivan was presenting a new music group that evening that had come all the way from England to appear on his program. Even though we lived in the heartland of the country, word about this new band had spread. My friends were very excited about it so I thought I must tune in to see what it was all about.

The channel was turned to the CBS affiliate. I sat down on the floor and scooted up close to the screen. The suspense was terrific.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sullivan announced in his “really big” distinctive voice, “The Beatles!”

The girls in the television audience went wild as the four-member rock band launched into the first of three songs: “All My Loving.” In the second half, they played two more including the one I remember best opening with the four beat introductory measures: “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” A record 73 million watched that evening and the rest, as they say, is history.

I, like every other pre-teen and teenager then, was taken by this mop topped group from across the Atlantic. I liked the strong,driving beat of the music, I preferred their “British” sound to the saccharine tones of Perry Como, my Mother’s favorite popular singer, and I quickly learned the lyrics and the melodies. My parents were less enamored.

My Dad surprised me with the Beatles first album.
My Dad surprised me with the Beatles first album.

But when my Dad returned from his national photography convention that spring, he presented me with a gift that “all the kids in Chicago were buying,” according to the salesman. I nearly flipped when he took out of his bag and handed to me the record album: Meet the Beatles. It was my first long play record and certainly my very first rock music album. I still have it, the album cover shows years of love but the record still sounds great when you pop it onto a turntable.

I had already bought the special magazine about the Fab Four with a cover identical to that of the album. I read it cover to cover devouring the bits of info about the twenty-something Beatle members. Paul McCartney, the “romantic” of the group, became my favorite Beatle.

Beatle cards were collected like baseball cards by young fans such as myself.
Beatle cards were collected like baseball cards by young fans such as myself.

I collected Beatle cards. Each was the size of a baseball card, (which I also collected,) featured a photo of the band and was autographed by one of them. I practiced capitalizing my “G’s” like George Harrison’s and still write it that way today.

During the six short years the band toured in the United States, I never saw the Beatles in a live performance. Tickets were too expensive and they seldom performed anywhere near my small hometown in mid-America.  I finally got my chance recently when Paul McCartney performed his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.  I was finally in the same room as Paul, along with nearly 16,000 other excited McCartney music fans.

McCartney charmed his fans at his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.
McCartney charmed his fans at his One on One concert in Vancouver B.C.

Paul may be 73 now, but I was a teenager again as I took to my seat high above the arena stage. McCartney came out to the roar of his audience as he kicked off the evening with what was clearly a crowd favorite–“A Hard Day’s Night.” For the next two hours, the beloved former Beatle played a program filled with mostly familiar songs–including “Lady Madonna,” “Let It Be” and “We Can Work It Out”–from the Beatles and Wings, along with a couple newer tunes.  I and the crowd sang along with most of them. In between, while switching out bass guitars or moving from the guitar tot he piano, he told stories about the songs, about his band mates, about his life.

I never knew, for instance, that the beautiful ballad “Blackbird” was written in response to the Civil Rights movement.  Or that Beatle producer George Martin changed who sang the lead part because John Lennon couldn’t both sing and play the harmonica on the last line: “Whoa, love me do.”

Between songs, McCArtney told ancedotes about the Beatles and his bandmates.
Between songs, McCartney told anecdotes about the Beatles and his band mates.

Some performers who’ve been at it as long as McCartney has, resent singing the old hits. Not McCartney. He clearly enjoyed playing them for the audience and came back at after taking his final bow he returned for an encore (clearly programmed because of the choreographed pyrotechnics) for another 45 minutes.

I looked around at the audience who were waving their arms and singing to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”.  The feeling was magical. Many, like me, were teenagers when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, but it was a multi-generational group.  That a band together for only ten years could produce so much music that has become part of the popular culture is remarkable. I relished every minute of McCartney’s concert. Though those young Beatles stepped onto Sullivan’s stage more than 50 years ago, for me it was almost like seeing them for the first time, because in way I was.

The encore at McCartney's concert was a display of light and pyrotechnics.
The encore at McCartney’s concert was a display of light and pyrotechnics.