By John Darling
for the Mail Tribune
After helping hundreds of Oregonians get wheelchairs, lifts and ramps over the past 11 years, the local nonprofit Mobility Unlimited has decided to close its doors.
Corporate sponsors and founders Bruce and Nancy Hough of Jacksonville said the foundation is sound but the main reason for closing is that Executive Director Bethany Brown is moving to a new job and Bruce Hough, 67 — who has been wheelchair-bound for 13 years — is moving toward retirement.
The foundation’s board unanimously voted to close at the end of 2012.
Inspiration for the foundation came in 2001, said Nancy Hough, from “watching my husband, with multiple sclerosis, struggling with mobility day after day and we knew others were going through the same things and we wanted to make someone else’s life better.”
Bruce Hough said that after going through “unbelievable hoops” to become mobile himself, “we decided we want to help a lot of people lead productive lives.”
The couple’s ComNet Marketing Group was the major sponsor, with many other donors. It raised funds through events such as the annual Jazz and Jewel Auction and the Jackson County Fair Bridge the Gap Run.
A selection committee would interview applicants, make a prompt decision and choose mobility equipment that enabled the recipients to continue as normal a life as possible, she said. Where needed, it would refer them to other nonprofit groups.
They had no exact number of those helped, but said it was in the hundreds.
One of them, Tom Alexander of Portland, received a vehicle lift and, in a news release, said: “I can’t thank you enough for everything that Mobility Unlimited has done for me. No more crossing my fingers as I lift into the van. I will never forget this and am forever grateful.”
The foundation often would fill the gap left by insurers who might spring for a wheelchair but not a seat elevator, Nancy Hough said, that would make it “nicer and more flexible.”
Bruce Hough, founder and president of ComNet Marketing Group in Medford, said circumstances pushed them to the decision to end the effort.
“It’s just time for it to happen,” he said. “It’s been very successful every year and it’s very near and dear to our hearts, but the coming year would take a lot of money, time and resources.
The foundation “never took one penny of government money,” he said, adding that it not only supplied power wheelchairs and lifts but also prosthetic limbs.
The Fair Run will continue, with a new nonprofit beneficiary to be decided, said Nancy Hough, noting that they also hope another organization would be created to perform the same duties as Mobility Unlimited.
“We thought about how we could continue it, with other people in leadership roles,” she said, “but we’re just so close to it, it would be hard for us not to oversee it and try to keep it on the same path.”
She noted that the foundation is not in trouble, has a good reputation and described the closure as “hard to some extent but it’s not a sad thing.”
“It’s been fabulous and the people who volunteered have been loyal, true and wonderful. This is such a giving community and we should all be proud.”
The couple said they are referring applicants to the state Vocational Rehabilitation office in Medford and HASL Independent Abilities in Grants Pass.
“We don’t want to go out with people feeling sorry about it,” said Nancy Hough. “We were blessed to be able to help a lot of people.”
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.