Bruce Stelmack

So, the original idea came from a group of us, therapists, doctors and psychologists, sitting around a table, and we said, ‘What can we do to raise some money to purchase equipment for people that are stuck here in the hospital and can't go home?" That was the original idea. The passion really was to see people return to their lives and regain mobility when it was taken away from them -- many times suddenly, without any warning. People with things like head injuries and spinal cord injuries don't usually know its coming. Even people with strokes or other illnesses, it's usually a surprise when they wake up one day and find that their life has changed.
It's a real easy passion to get your arms around and when you see people that are stuck and hurt and want to get back to their families, it's really very easy to work toward trying to help them to do that.

For people who need a less dramatic piece of equipment, maybe something they need to get in and out of the tub or a cane, but their insurance only covers part of it or only covers one piece when they need two or three, F.R.E.E. has been able to step in provide the other equipment they need so they can return to a more normal life or at least maximize the abilities they already have. When someone is injured or sick and loses their mobility, it's a complete life changer. For the healthcare workers and family and everyone in the community - it affects all of us.

To provide recycled equipment and not purchase new equipment has been a big enhancement. In fact, we rarely purchase new equipment now.

Now looking to the future, I was originally hoping to help a few people here at the hospital in Roanoke, Virginia. Well, that's changed. There are now five chapters of F.R.E.E. around Virginia and I think there will be about twice that many before we're finished. And I see a lot of national interest in reproducing this model. We were fortunate to have had a grant from the Christopher Reeve Foundation, around the time of his death, to help us write a manual to teach people how they might start a chapter of F.R.E.E. That grant was put in to good use, we did write a manual and now, with the five chapters, we've succeeded in spreading the idea of F.R.E.E. around the state, and I think we are going to find other states follow suit in the future.