Keep On Rolling

Despite unforeseen challenges, Segs4Vets continues mission to serve injured military veterans

“Gangbusters.” That’s what Jerry Kerr envisioned for Segs4Vets this year.

Segs4Vets2020 marked the 15th anniversary of the volunteer grassroots organization that he founded to provide Segway mobile transporters for severely injured veterans. Seg4Vets was expanding its reach with its ALLY chair program. Volunteers were assessing fundraising opportunities, including the fall campaign from the Missouri Bankers Association, that would enable them to award more ALLY chairs and continue to provide maintenance support for Segways already in use.

“We have awarded Segways and ALLY chairs to more than 2,000 recipients since 2005,” said Kerr, Segs4Vets president. “We expected to be gangbusters this year, both in terms of awards and being able to address the changes that current beneficiaries have.”

Those expectations changed in March 2020. Like the rest of the world, Segs4Vets experienced the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders forced the cancellation of a popular
Segs4Vets charity event in Naples, Florida. Segs4Vets halted training for award recipients. The only U.S. plant that manufactures Segways ceased operations when New Hampshire issued stay-at-home orders.

“We didn’t know when the plant would reopen, how long it would be closed or what would happen,” Kerr said. “We acquired 50 Segways as the plant was closing to help us get through challenges that we could possibly face.”

When the New Hampshire plant opened in May, Kerr was excited.

“It’s always better for us to buy units as needed,” he said. “Housing a of large number of Segways in a warehouse is not in our best financial interests because it takes money away from training and support services needed for beneficiaries.”

That excitement only lasted a few weeks. In June, Segway announced it would close its U.S. plant and discontinue production of the Segway PT — the only device that Segs4Vets uses.

“It really stunned us,” Kerr said. “We were not expecting this, and the people working for Segway didn’t expect it, either.

“Literally, the closure of the plant in the U.S. would have spelled the end of our program but for this — we were able to acquire an additional 136 units they produced.”

With 186 Segway mobile transporters now in its possession, Segs4Vets has pivoted its operations. It hired the head of service from the Segway plant in New Hampshire so that Segs4Vets could continue to provide maintenance services for beneficiaries. And, Segs4Vets now purchases parts for Segway devices and stores them in a warehouse. 

“The plant closure has really changed the very nature of what we do because what we’re doing now is keeping an aging fleet operating,” Kerr said. “Every time we award a new device, we have
to consider how long can we keep that device going.”

The 186 units allows Segs4Vets to continuing awarding devices for about four years. Kerr noted the organization is focused on finding an alternative solution to replace the device used by Segs4Vets.

When the events with the plant closure transpired, a friend questioned Kerr about why the organization just didn’t quit.

“He said we were volunteers who didn’t get paid. This was our chance to retire, saying we did the best we could,” Kerr said. “That’s just not in our nature. We started thinking about these men and women and wondered what they would do without us. That’s not the direction that we wanted to go because a need still exists and without our folks making sure things are good for these men and women, it will leave them in a lurch, and we're just not willing to do that.”

As 2020 winds down, Segs4Vets has a long list of recipients to award. They are trying to complete and hope to gift 20 to 30 devices to recipients by the end of the year. This partly depends on where individuals live, the travel restrictions regarding COVID and the availability of volunteers for training.

“It’s cool to see enlightenment that comes when individuals receive a device and the sudden epiphany of what this can do for them,” Kerr said. “The reality is that it takes time for them to use it and figure out how the tool is best used in their world.”

For the Segs4Vets volunteers, it’s even more rewarding when they can keep someone who uses their Segway or ALLY chair every day up and running. That’s why the organization continues to
remind its supporters and the public that their donations truly make a difference.

“It’s harder to raise money to put a new wheel on a device or buy a new battery,” Kerr said. “It’s not as sexy as giving someone a Segway or ALLY chair but just as important. The reality is that those men and women who have served in the military and became severely injured have a life full of compromises in front of them. They need tools that Segs4Vets can provide them that allow them to
live a productive and joyful life — what Segs4Vets does has a tremendous return to society.”

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