SAN RAMON -- Don Routh's lips still tremble and his eyes fight back tears as he recalls the day 34 years ago when doctors told him that his then 1-year-old son, Josh, would never speak or have use of his limbs.
Doctors diagnosed Josh with cerebral palsy, a developmental disability that is caused by brain damage -- usually sustained in the womb or at birth -- that affects body movement, according to United Celebral Palsy.
"I was terrified," said Routh, who adopted Josh when he was two days old. "That was my son and to hear that he would be a quadriplegic was tough. ... But you can either bury your head in the sand or you can embrace it."
Routh has done more than embrace it. He has spent his money and time advocating for people with disabilities. The doctors were wrong about Josh. Josh, 35, lives by himself in San Ramon and works as a clerk at Nob Hill Foods.
Together Routh, Josh and Bill Wheeler, the owner of Black Tie Transportation in Pleasanton, have spent the past nine years highlighting world mobility issues and the need for wheelchairs through Del Corazon, the organization the trio started to partner with the Danville-based Wheelchair Foundation. Del Corazon has delivered more than 7,000 wheelchairs to Mexico and Central and South America.
"Josh was born here, but if he was born in a developing country he would not have had the same opportunities," said Routh, a retired businessman who was a partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers. "We are helping give others a fighting chance."
Last year, the trio incorporated schools into their organization with a program that not only raises funds to buy wheelchairs but also provide students a chance to learn about the situation people with disabilities face in the developing world. More than 109 million people with a disability need a wheelchair in the developing world, according to Del Corazon. With help from the Wheelchair Foundation, Del Corazon can deliver wheelchairs for $150 each.
In its first year at eight schools in Pleasanton, Del Corazon raised $18,000. The program expanded to 50 schools this year in Pleasanton, San Ramon, Danville, Oakland and Hayward with a goal to raise $100,000 this year and eventually expand to other parts of the Bay Area.
"This program was different from a lot of other projects we get," said Parvin Ahmadi, the Pleasanton schools superintendent. "This one has the potential to be a really good service learning project. It is ongoing, and regardless of how old you are, you can be involved."
Routh spent the summer with staff from the San Ramon Valley school district's Ability Awareness Program developing curriculum based on mobility and wheelchairs that accompanies fundraising efforts that students, parents and teachers participate in. Students from kindergarten to high school have a chance to learn about mobility and wheelchairs through subjects from English to physics.
"Students learned a lot about what it means to help others, and that is just a powerful message," said Kelly Hoffmann, a second-grade teacher at Bollinger Canyon Elementary in San Ramon. "They learned that if you contribute $2 it can make a difference in another person's life."
Bollinger Canyon chose to incorporate the Del Corazon program into its lessons plan for a month and set and met a goal of raising $2.50 per student.
In Pleasanton, the Lydiksen Elementary community was one of the pilot schools and collected more than $5,000 in a month, enough to buy 34 wheelchairs for people in Guatemala. Beyond the service learning and fundraising that the school did, teachers from the school also paid their own way to Guatemala to help Routh, Josh and Wheeler deliver the chairs.
"The first chair we delivered was to a woman who had not been out of her bedroom for six years," said Kimberly Hereld, a fifth-grade teacher at Lydiksen. "We all cried because for $150 we were able to make a difference, and it was our kids that made that happen." Routh, Josh and Wheeler, with the help of the Wheelchair Foundation, have delivered wheelchairs to 13 countries in Central and South America and hope to visit all 21 countries, with Honduras and Costa Rica scheduled for July.
Lydiksen Elementary is preparing to raise funds in March to help buy wheelchairs for the Honduras trip. In addition, Del Corazon also scheduled two charity basketball games with Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley High School's basketball programs playing against the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program's wheelchair basketball team on April 29 and May 6.
All the proceeds go toward purchasing and delivering wheelchairs.
"We get to give kids their freedom back," Josh Routh said.
"We are so blessed and take for granted what we have." Added Wheeler, "Josh is the X-factor and sets an example for all the kids," said Wheeler. "He gets around independently, and the kids see what he can do and say, 'I am like him.' "
For more information on Del Corazon visit del-corazon.org.