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Making Mobility, One Hand-Powered Cart at a Time

PET-MN, providing personal energy transportation, began last fall as an affiliate nonprofit in Maple Grove and opened up shop in March in Minneapolis.

Less than a year old in Minnesota, PET-MN in Maple Grove is taking on an international challenge of providing hand-powered transportation to those in need.

PET-MN – Twin Cities Executive Director Jim Conn answered a few questions about the organization in a question and answer interview with Maple Grove Patch.

Maple Grove Patch: How and why was your organization formed?

Jim Conn: PET stands for Personal Energy Transportation, and is a rugged, three wheeled, hand powered cart with a hauling capacity that is given, free of charge, to people in developing countries who do not have use of their lower limbs. It was first developed in the late 1990’s in response to a need identified by Methodist missionaries in Africa. The carts are built in the US, but distributed exclusively overseas. There are 23 production sites in the US, with ours being the 23rd. To date, all affiliates have built and distributed a little over 30,000. The causes of the disability are many – birth defects, disease (polio, leprosy), torture, landmines, etc. When given the gift of mobility, their lives are immediately changed for the better.

Patch: What services and/or products does your organization provide? 

Conn: We have two goals, first to build and distribute the PET carts in conjunction with our umbrella organization, PET International and second to provide meaningful work for volunteers, particularly retired individuals.

Patch: Who does your organization serve? 

Conn: Our primary focus, associated with our first goal, is to those afflicted with these various problems causing them to be immobile. Our secondary focus, associated with the second goal, is to the many people interested in volunteering and contributing gifts and talents gained over a lifetime of learning and work to the construction and ultimate distribution of the carts.

Patch: What made you want to start a nonprofit organization in Maple Grove? 

Conn: As Executive Director, I have the discretion to make some choices. As a Maple Grove resident, with a home office, it is a perfect fit. I have time, location, and some talents learned over a lifetime of work that can be used effectively. I am currently retired from that former life and can devote lots of time and energy to this effort.

Patch: How can the community help or get involved? Do you have volunteer opportunities? 

Conn:  We invite everyone to check us out first using the web site to familiarize themselves with PET and our mission. There is contact information there, and we will follow up with our volunteer coordinator to schedule people in. The model is very much like Feed My Starving Children, a marvelous organization based in the Twin Cities. Volunteer will be scheduled to come to the shop in NE Minneapolis, go through a brief indoctrination, and then be put to work assembling carts.  The work may involve power equipment, or simply painting. We are very conscious of safety and quality, so the indoctrination is essential. Because of the nature of the work, the volunteers need be adults. Another obvious need is for donations of money or materials. The carts cost roughly $250 apiece to build and ship, and that represents the vast majority of our funding needs. The staff is all-volunteer as well, with no compensation.  There are donation forms and information on the web site as well.

Patch: How are you different from other organizations that provide similar services and/or products? 

Conn:  While other organizations provide wheel chairs, new or rebuilt, to needy folks overseas, those don’t work well where the roads are unimproved. Our cart design is unique for that purpose.  Our simple design is intended to hold up well over time and require minimal maintenance. The oldest carts in use today are 8+ years old.

Patch: What future plans to do you have for your organization?

Conn: Our vision for PET MN is to have as many as six affiliates throughout the state.  We envision two in the metro area and four outstate.  We are faith based but not linked to any denomination, and are working with several local churches to broaden our support.

Patch: Any additional information for Maple Grove residents? 

Conn:  Sometimes we wonder how we as an individual can change the world. These carts change lives. The looks on the faces of recipients are ample evidence of that. Their testimony is further evidence. Residents everywhere can help change the world for the better. Lend your support, directly or indirectly, to this initiative and help spread the smiles across the world.

Interested in becoming involved in PET-MN? Visit www.petmntc.org, email petmntc@aol.com  or call 651-261-2344. According to Conn, PET-MN can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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