Originally Published: September 26, 2010 9:58 p.m.
Shining Star founder Dennis Spicknell accepted a check for $3,688 to help buy new batteries for motorized wheelchairs to be donated to needy veterans.
(Ret) USMC Sgt. Alfonso Santillan, Department of Arizona Welfare Officer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and (Ret.) U.S. Army Major John R. Tapia, Ph.D., Prescott Chapter 608 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, presented Spicknell with the check that will also help him store the wheelchairs and scooters until they can be donated to disabled veterans who need them.
Spicknell said the idea for the program came to him two and a half years ago while he was being treated at the Bob Stump Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Prescott.
"I was talking to the Man Upstairs and told him this is not what I had planned for retirement," Spicknell said. "When I fell asleep on a gurney, I thought I heard two nurses saying we never have enough wheelchairs for people."
Spicknell said he thought about how some people have wheelchairs in their garage that they don't need anymore and how it would be great to get those wheelchairs to veterans who don't qualify through the VA, but could still use them.
"I kept thinking about it, and I decided I could do it," Spicknell said.
So Spicknell started the Shining Star program to find wheelchairs and scooters, recruited Charles Butkewicz to help him refurbish them, and donned his Santa hat to deliver about 30 wheelchairs and scooters in the past two and a half years to veterans around the state.
Butkewicz said if a wheelchair or scooter needs a new seat or tires they take care of it, and they also install a new battery that they guarantee for a year.
"We get a great deal of support from a number of people and companies in Prescott, Prescott Valley, and Chino Valley who help us refurbish the wheelchairs and scooters," Butkewicz said.
Spicknell said while he is always looking for wheelchairs and scooters, he also hopes that veterans who could use them would contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He said people who are interested in donating to the battery fund should contact Budget Batteries in Prescott at (928) 445-2449.
Spicknell said he also appreciates that the Prescott Chapter 608 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart pays for gas to deliver the wheelchairs and scooters to veterans around the state.
The first time Spicknell delivered an electric wheelchair to a veteran he went up to the Navajo reservation and learned the man was in a rehabilitation facility in Phoenix.
So he drove there, put on his Santa hat and asked the veteran if he believed in Santa.
Maybe, the veteran told Spicknell.
"Well after this you're going to believe in Santa Claus," Spicknell said.
When the veteran saw the wheelchair, he told Spicknell he couldn't afford it. Spicknell told him he could, because it was free.
"I told him my eight reindeer and I want you to have this chair," Spicknell said.
Then Spicknell showed him how to work the controls and speed on the wheelchair.
"He was so happy as he drove his new chair around the cul-de-sac," Spicknell said.