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Wheelchairs That Work Anywhere

The World Health Organization estimates that some 70 million people need a wheelchair, yet only 5-15% have access to one. Further, traditional wheelchairs are not designed to navigate dirt roads that exist in many rural areas. A simple but life-changing invention created by three United Methodist men has brought mobility and more to 50,000 disabled persons in 100 countries.


(Locator: Columbia, Missouri)

A simple invention has changed the lives of more than 50,000 people. It’s called a PET – Personal Energy Transport.

Dr. Roger Hofmeister, PET Missouri-Columbia: “PET is a very sturdy, hand-cranked wheelchair. Three wheels. Will go on a terrain that standard wheelchairs won’t touch.”

PETs are now in use in 100 countries. They require no motors or electricity and are built to last.

Gary Moreau, Executive Director for PET Missouri-Columbia: “This whole PET vehicle, it’s just so simply made it can go anywhere with a little maintenance."

Today there are 23 PET assembly shops in the United States but PET Missouri - Columbia is the oldest and largest, producing 1500 PETs a year. A rotating group of nearly 100 retirees keeps the assembly line rolling daily.

Roger Hofmeister: “The paychecks are the pictures that we get back. I think it’s what Christ would do if he were here.”

Vernal Tracy has been legally blind for a decade. Building PETs lets him help others despite his own limitations.

Vernal Tracy, PET Missouri-Columbia: “I do woodworking all the time. Still got all my fingers. I’ve done it so long it just comes natural to me.”

Those building the PETs are inspired by the countless stories of people who find dignity, freedom, and financial stability for the first time in their lives. 

Roger Hofmeister: “There’s a guy in Guatemala who’s made a 7-11 out of his PET. I mean, he made a roof on it. He’s got places to hang all of the potato chips and boxes of things that he sells.”

The Rev. Mel West: “We’ve been utterly amazed at the entrepreneurial ability of persons who’ve been beggars, many of them, for years. And you give ‘em a PET and they figure out a way to make a respectful, decent living for themselves and for their family.”

In 1994, the PET Mobility Project was started by three United Methodist men, one a missionary in the Congo.

The Rev. Mel West, PET Mobility Project Founder: “PET started in my garage 20 years ago. And I’m still very much working with it. I’m here about every day during the week.”

A PET costs about $300 in materials and shipping.

Harrold Ankeney, PET Missouri-Columbia: “We can build as many PETs as we get donations for.”

Assembling each one is a labor of love for volunteers who know their gift of time will have a lasting impact.

Roger Hofmeister: “Not everybody likes to chase a golf ball around when they retire. It’s one of the places that you can go and spend a couple of hours and go home and feel like you did something really productive for somebody you’ll never meet, who you’ve made a life-changing event for.”


Learn more about the Pet Mobility Project and the shop in Columbia, Missouri or make a donation.

You can also support the work of PET through gifts to the United Methodist Advance #982665.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN.

Media contact is Joe Iovino.

This video was originally posted on November 18, 2015.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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