The Drive for Independence with Heather Sloat 

Editor’s Note: Heather Sloat from York, Pennsylvania, is a caregiver, and the unofficial president of Drive for Independence. Drive for Independence was started in February, 2015, to try to get a vehicle that could be converted to make it wheelchair accessible for Christopher Sauerbaum. He was born with a form of muscular dystrophy and always had issues with mobility. His mom was told he never would be able to walk. However, he did learn to walk with a walker, which he used until he was about 13 years old. By that time, walking became too complicated, and he started using a wheelchair.

I met Chris when I became his caregiver. Chris and I worked to develop a nonprofit called Drive for Independence. We realized there was a need in our community for a nonprofit to help individuals who use wheelchairs raise money to purchase vehicles that could be modified, so that they could drive those vehicles from their wheelchairs.

How We’re Raising Money for a Truck

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We’re currently in the process of getting Chris a Mobility SVM (, a conversion kit that’s built into a GMC Sierra truck or a Chevy Silverado. A lift can be built into either one of these trucks that will bring someone in a wheelchair up into the truck to drive.

To raise the down payment for the truck, our very first fundraiser was a plant sale. Next came a car wash, then a holiday bazaar and many different small fundraisers sponsored by friends, family members and organizations.

For instance, one of our friends had written to a jewelry store in our community. They had a program called the Magic of Giving, and we received a $2,500 grant from the store.

In 2013, we held the Upshift Summer Bash, which included a car show and a vendor show. We had food trucks at the event, and we sold places for vendors to exhibit. That event brought in about $1,000. So in essence, we became fundraisers with the goal of raising enough money for the down payment on a truck that could be adapted, so Chris could drive it.

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The conversion package without the truck costs about $91,000 and includes the lift and hand controls that Chris needs to drive the truck. But luckily, we don’t have to pay for the conversion. The cost of the conversion is being paid for by the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

We’ve used our fundraisers for the down payment on the truck. Chris needs the truck, instead of a car, because we have plenty of snow and ice here in Pennsylvania where we live. Chris is a graphic designer, and he needs a four-wheel drive truck to drive back and forth to his workplace.

Why the Drive for Independence Was Developed

There’s little information available on how to raise money to purchase a vehicle for individuals who use wheelchairs. We’ve learned so much through this process.

We started gathering information on how to become a nonprofit, set up a board of directors, apply for grants and conduct fundraisers. Our ultimate goal is for Drive for Independence to help individuals with high-level disabilities to get back to work and have reliable vehicles that they can drive back and forth to work. Transportation always has been a major stumbling block for many people with disabilities.

We’re going in two directions right now to raise more money to get more vehicles for more people with major disabilities. The first phase of our two-part attack is obtaining grants to help fund more vehicles for more people. The second phase of our attack is becoming a physical sponsor for people to raise money to purchase the vehicle under our nonprofit organization.

By using our nonprofit status to help raise money, donations by individuals and companies will be considered charitable donations. We’ve learned that creating a nonprofit is a major challenge. Since we believe that creating a nonprofit becomes a stumbling block for people in need of a vehicle who are starting fundraising, if Drive for Independence becomes a physical sponsor for other people who are attempting to raise money, then they don’t have to go through the same process we’ve gone through to obtain nonprofit status for Chris.

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Chris has an advertising background and understands that one of the keys to having a successful fundraiser is the individual’s ability to explain:

  • what his or her situation is;
  • why he needs a vehicle to get back and forth to work;
  • what the fundraiser is;
  • when’s the date, time and where it’ll be held; and
  • what the monies raised will be used for exactly.

Just saying you’re going to have a fundraiser doesn’t encourage people to come. So, we give marketing, advertising and promotional advice to help these fundraisers for others be as successful as possible.

Our webpage is One of the items you’ll find on the website is our story of the process we’ve gone through to help Chris get his truck. The website also has the events we’re conducting and information about the events.

We’re also searching for and posting websites that people can go to and get more help with fundraising and information about companies and businesses that give grants. Drive for Independence is hoping to be a resource for people in wheelchairs who want to get vehicles to return to work. On our website, we try to provide information and help to coach them through this process.

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We have a board of directors and a fundraising committee that’s working with us now to help others be able to get back to work. We’ve had several people contact us, and we share our advice and our experience gladly to those who call or email.

We also suggest attending training centers like the Hiram G. Andrews Center located in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The Hiram G. Andrew Center is actually a vocation rehabilitation center for people to learn how to drive their vehicles, once they get them. Chris went through driver’s training at this location to learn how to drive with the SVM conversion equipment.

There are many steps involved in getting a conversion kit and a truck or a van and conducting fundraisers. But if you have a vehicle, you have to learn how to drive it with the controls that are built into the conversion.

How the Drive for Independence Will Impact Chris Sauerbaum’s Life

Many people who use wheelchairs choose to drive vans. However, everyone using a wheelchair doesn’t live in a warm climate. Since we live in snow country, a 4-wheel drive truck allows Chris to be more mobile and to get back and forth to work. Also, the 4-wheel drive adds another degree of safety when he’s driving on snow and ice.

Chris works a full-time job, which is more than 1-1/2 hours away from home. So, he’s on the road quite a bit. We believe safety is a very important part of mobility. With a 4-wheel drive vehicle, Chris doesn’t have to worry as much about his ability to get to work and to return home safely in all types of weather.

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The down payment for the 4-wheel drive truck was $10,000. It took us about 1-1/2 years of fundraising to reach that goal. Actually we raised close to $11,000.

We want you to know this, so that you can see that usually you’ll need to have numbers of little fundraisers as well as major fundraisers to get the down payment for the vehicle you want to use for conversion. If you don’t set a timetable on how quickly you expect to raise the money you need, you won’t become nearly as disappointed, regardless of how much money you raise at each fundraiser.

One of the reasons that we decided to start Drive for Independence is like many people we had no knowledge or experience in fundraising. Other than when I was younger, I sold Girl Scout cookies, but beyond that I had no experience myself.

We’ve proven that you can get the vehicle you need to return to work, if you develop a plan to raise the money.

When we began attempting to obtain a vehicle with a conversion, we wish we’d had someone to talk to and some place to go for advice. And, that’s what we’re trying to provide with our Drive for Independence organization. When we realized that Chris needed a safe, reliable vehicle to drive back and forth to work, we didn’t have a clue as to what to do to make that dream come true. We discovered there were large numbers of people who wanted and dreamed the same dream that we dreamed and didn’t have any more information than we had when we started.

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As we’ve gone through this process of obtaining a vehicle conversion, we’ve documented the steps we’ve taken. We’ve learned how to set up a nonprofit, and we’ve encountered probably most of the problems that you may have, if you pursue your dream of owning a conversion vehicle. We know our organization can help you in this endeavor because of what we’ve learned.

If you’re working or are in the process of getting a job, most states, through their offices of vocational rehabilitation, will help you in some manner and to some degree to help convert a vehicle. Chris hardly can wait to get his vehicle.

For more information about Drive for Independence, go to our website, email us at, or call us at 717-991-5921.

More Fundraising Help from Wheel:Life

10 fundraising ideas to help people with disabilitiesIn this book, you’ll review 10 brainstorming ideas for different types of fundraiser events to benefit an individual with a disability who needs assistance for medical equipment, physical rehabilitation, adaptive sports equipment or daily medical needs.

Throughout the book, author Lisa Wells shares real-life examples and success stories from her interactions with disability advocates, non-profit supporters and Wheel:Life members throughout a healthcare marketing career that spans more than 20 years on three continents.

10 Fundraising Ideas to Help People with Disabilities features interviews from:
• Paralympian Bert Burns on how he raised support to begin his career in wheelchair racing
• Project Walk Atlanta participant Leslie Ostrander on how she raised money for additional rehab
• The founders of 100 Songs for Kids on their annual music event to benefit children’s medical charities
• Rolling Inspiration creator Chris Salas on how he lined up sponsors for his SCI peer support group
and power soccer team
• The creators of Hunter’s Torch Daylily Garden, a fundraising resource for a child with special needs.
• The Independence Fund – a little known source of financial support for disabled US veterans.


About the Author: John E. Phillipsjp
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at


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