Wheelchair theft sparks outpouring of donations to paraplegic man in Genesee Township

posted in: Our Heroes | 0

GENESEE TWP, MI –Thomas Beck, 34, of Flint, never could have imagined that a simple email after his wheelchair was stolen between his aunt Deborah Beck-Burns and Pastor Keith O’Neal of the Good Samaritan Network would start a chain reaction of good deeds that would change his life forever.

The hubbub began on Feb. 2, when Beck noticed that his wheelchair was missing from in front of his trailer, where he had kept it for two years. O’Neal, finding the theft horrifying, reached out to local media outlets that brought Beck the attention that started an outpouring of help for Beck.

Hometown Heroes of Michigan, a nonprofit organization that helps provide medical equipment for people in need, partnered with Vet’s Access, and immediately started building a wheelchair ramp on Beck’s mobile home.

“We hope to have it done by today (Feb. 11),” said John Lemaire, director of Hometown Heroes.

The nonprofit is also donating a power wheelchair to Beck once the ramp is constructed.

Hometown Heroes is also responsible for directing Beck to a nonprofit organization called Wheelin’ Team 457. The team provides the physically challenged with indoor and outdoor sports and recreation. It provides education and guidance to the community, the state and the nation and is funded by grants, fundraising and private donations, according to its website.

“They do all sorts of sports — hunting, fishing, basketball, baseball and powerlifting,” said Beck excitedly. “It’s really weird how everything happened. My powerlifting coach just contacted me last week. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be going towards next. I am going to try to reach him tomorrow and ask if he will start training me (to powerlift),” said Beck.

Wheelin’ Team 457 is a nonprofit organization, part of the American Legion Post 457 in North Branch, started by President Ray Brown, a former Marine who wanted to encourage people to “unlock their brakes and get moving,” said Brown.

“We want to get him (Beck) out, get him trained, get him stronger, and get him into some wheelchair sports. He’s never hunted or anything so we want to see if he likes that kind of thing. So we’ll get him fishing and hunting hopefully and keep him really busy and active. We’re excited to have known about him. It’s really interesting because Flint is basically how I got my start after I got disabled. But I never thought we’d be back in Flint actually meeting someone in a wheelchair new for the first time. It’s kind of interesting how it’s working out. It came back full circle and we hope to yank him out of that trailer and get him rolling,” said Brown.

In addition to the ramp and wheelchair, Beck’s neighbor donated a flat-screen computer monitor to him to replace his old, bulky one. His former powerlifting coach, Russell Husted, and keyboarding-typing instructor, Rick Vosburgh, from Mt. Morris High School, gave him a generous birthday present, a 50-inch HD TV.

When asked how he feels about all the publicity, Beck replied, “It’s crazy. I didn’t think it was going to be this big. It seems like it just keeps coming. It hasn’t quite ended. I’d really like to thank everybody in the community that did whatever they could to help me. It’s above and beyond what I imagined. I’ve gotten way more than probably what one person should. But it’s awesome that all the people in the community just stepped up and helped me out.”

“The community has been really great. All of the community. Not just the people at Hometown Heroes and the Good Samaritan Network. It’s the entire community. They donated money. It’s very overwhelming, but everything is going really good,” said Beck.

The wheelchair was stolen a few days before Beck’s 34th birthday and he didn’t think that he would be able to leave the house. But thanks to O’Neal and other members of the community, his stolen wheelchair was found and returned in time for him to celebrate with his sister, Jesica Parra, and niece.

Genesee Township Police Chief John Mullaly said that the neighbor who found Beck’s wheelchair gave police two names to investigate. However, that investigation did not yield any suspects in the case, he said.

By Nicole Weddington | nwedding@mlive.com
on February 11, 2014 at 8:30 PM, updated February 12, 2014 at 10:03 AM