Black Hills Electric employee brings more than wheelchairs to people in need

Over the last 25 years, Mike Chase, manager of marketing and member services at Class C Basin Electric member Black Hills Electric, has listened to people talk about hundreds of good causes at his Rotary meetings. Many of the talks inspired him to donate money, but it wasn’t until he heard Mark Siemonsma, director of development with Hope Haven Foundation in Rock Valley, Iowa, talk about his organization’s wheelchair ministry that Chase became inspired to donate his time.

“Something inspired me to act that day,” Chase says. 

“I went home, talked with my wife about helping with a distribution of wheelchairs in Romania, and contacted Mark. I had been saving money from announcing sporting events for Custer High School for several years and decided this would be a great way to spend the savings.”

Hope Haven International Ministries’ goal is to deliver wheelchairs to people in desperate need from 109 different countries (due to U.S. regulations, rebuilt wheelchairs may not be donated in the United States). Chase had the opportunity to go to Romania to help distribute 200 wheelchairs in 2011. 

Hope Haven’s global outreach began in Romania in 1996. Officials charged with the overwhelming task of serving thousands of institutionalized people with disabilities requested that Hope Haven’s executive staff visit, assess, and advise on more effective implementation. They found people with disabilities living in deplorable conditions.

During the years when Romania was under Communist control, people with disabilities were either institutionalized or their care was left entirely to the person’s family. Simple necessities, such as wheelchairs or crutches, were non-existent. 

Chase talks about a delivery in one Romanian community where Hope Haven gave chairs to a hospital for people with work-related injuries – physical and/or mental. 

“One very large man was lucky enough to be on the first floor since there was no elevator, but the hospital had no way to move him around. His wife sat with him every day in his small room. On a previous distribution trip, Hope Haven volunteers did not have a wheelchair large enough for him, so it became a mission to find and rebuild a chair for him. The day I was there, I helped fit the chair for him and helped his wife roll him outside for the first time in several years. She could not stop hugging me and the others in my group. Even with the language barrier, you could tell that this was a great moment in their lives. We left them sitting under a large tree in the courtyard. Next, we ascended three flights of stairs to the third floor where a young man in his 30s was curled in the fetal position in his multi-patient room. His muscles were atrophied and unusable, and he could barely speak. He suffered from muscular dystrophy. We brought in a child’s wheelchair and lifted him into it, strapped him in, and made adjustments to fit his needs. Since he had been abandoned by his family, we rolled him around the room and showed the aides how to operate the chair’s brakes. Prior to this, he would be carried to a stationary chair in his room and strapped in for the day. As we left the building, I looked up and the aides had rolled him out on the fire escape landing, and he had the biggest smile on his face that I had ever seen. Even though we could only communicate through an interpreter, everywhere we went with our wheelchairs, people expressed their gratitude and appreciation, and the joy was overwhelming. These chairs actually changed the lives of those families.” 

The wheelchairs the families receive are given free of charge because of donations of new and used wheelchairs, parts, raw materials, financial support, and more. Several of the used wheelchairs in need of repair are serviced at the wheelchair warehouse inside the South Dakota State Penitentiary. There, approximately 40 inmates serve community service hours working on wheelchairs. This unique partnership not only keeps the inmates busy, but they’re able to take pride that they’re doing work for a great cause. 

Matthew, an inmate who works on the chairs at the South Dakota State Penitentiary, says, “The work puts my heart in motion. Working in this wheelchair shop, fixing wheelchairs for little kids has transformed me spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically.” 

Chase is appreciative of his employer, Black Hills Electric, for supporting his work with Hope Haven. Not only do they support his time away while he’s volunteering, but they also offer a place in their shop for Hope Haven to store chairs. 

Chase also says other community members, like Karl’s TV and Appliance in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, play an important role by transporting the wheelchairs from the western to the eastern part of the state. 

“After the store’s employees drop off merchandise at their store, they’ll use the then-empty trucks to move our wheelchairs to Sioux Falls for us. They’re a big supporter of Hope Haven.”

One of the things that has amazed Chase the most while working with Hope Haven is the resiliency of people. 

“Poverty in most countries that Hope Haven helps is rampant with very little hope for the future. Through programs like Hope Haven’s wheelchair ministry, people with no other options are now able to live more normal lives.”

For more information on Hope Haven Ministries or to get involved, visit