A wish for wheels: Rotary fundraiser gets rolling

Posted 7/2/20

Like many 6-year-old boys, Levi Knoche loves to go outside with his family to hike around the Olympic Peninsula. With the help of the Rotary Club of East Jefferson County, he will soon be able to do …

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A wish for wheels: Rotary fundraiser gets rolling

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Like many 6-year-old boys, Levi Knoche loves to go outside with his family to hike around the Olympic Peninsula. With the help of the Rotary Club of East Jefferson County, he will soon be able to do so. 

Levi suffers from spina bifida, hydrocephalus and Chiari malformation II, a combination that has left him unable to walk independently and confined to a wheelchair for longer trips, meaning he must be carried on outdoor adventures by his parents, Morgan and Daniel Knoche.

“It limits the things we can do as a family,” Morgan said.

An Action Trackstander NR chair, which is equipped with tracks instead of wheels, would allow Levi to participate in his family’s activities. The only downside is the $16,900 price tag. 

To counteract this cost for the Knoche family, the EJC Rotary Club is fundraising to raise $13,000 for the chair, coordinated through the Wishing Star Foundation.

“As much as it gives him the gift of mobility, it gives a gift to our family to be able to do things together instead of having to be divided,” Morgan said.

Wishing for the future

Levi was being treated at a hospital in Denver, Colorado for several years, placing heavy financial strains on the Knoche family. Recently, they learned about the Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane, which doesn’t charge families for any part of a child’s care or treatment. 

Once in Spokane, they also learned of the Wishing Star Foundation, a nonprofit organization that granted Levi one “Wish,” an offer extended to children ages 3-21 who are terminally ill, have a life-threatening disease or are medically complicated, according to their website.

Since Levi is being treated at Shriners, he qualified for a Wish from the Spokane-based organization, which serves Eastern Washington and parts of Idaho.

There are no wishes too big, said Cindy Guthrie, director of community partnerships and development for the Wishing Star Foundation: “If they can wish it, we can grant it.”

Commonly, kids want to meet movie stars and athletes or go on vacations.

While Morgan said Levi had “a lot of fancy ideas,” such as a trip to Disneyland, he kept returning to something that would make outdoor family adventures easier.

The Knoche family used to camp frequently, Morgan recalled, but as Levi grew heavier and older the outings became more difficult.

The family tried different options to bring Levi along, including modifying a hunting pack intended to carry meat with pillows and straps so that Daniel could carry Levi on hikes. This method worked for a while, but now at 60 pounds, Levi can’t easily be carried long distances.

Bringing a wheelchair outside isn’t doable either, since the small tires get caught in gravel or sink through pine needles, and don’t easily travel over the rough ground.

“Washington is unforgiving terrain. It’s beautiful but it’s wet and it’s not good for wheels,” Morgan said.

These struggles led to Levi and Morgan staying home with Levi’s younger sister while Daniel took Levi’s older brother hiking and hunting.

Levi decided his Wish would be spent on a machine that would allow him to go off flat-paved surfaces and onto trails. The Trackstander would let Levi be in a standing or sitting position and comes equipped with various add-ons, some of which Levi has requested. Most importantly, he wants it to be painted in camouflage. 

Guthrie was not surprised by Levi’s ultimate Wish for the chair. “Our Wishes are as diverse as our kids,” she said. “It’s natural that he wants liberty and freedom.”

Funding the Wish

Guthrie, also a member of Rotary Club No. 21 in Spokane, approached the EJC Rotary Club, which covers Levi’s Port Ludlow home area, in May. Club President Paul Wynkoop immediately took interest in Levi’s case and agreed to help raise funds for his Wish. 

There are 92 clubs in Rotary District 5020, which spans from north of the Columbia River up the western side of the state on through Vancouver Island, Canada. 

If each club donated even just $150, Wynkoop explained, the $13,000 goal would be exceeded. This could come either from individual member contributions or the club’s general budget. 

The EJC Rotary Club is also fielding donations from unaffiliated members of the community in any amount. 

“It doesn’t take a lot per person,” Wynkoop said. “It just takes a lot of people.”

To date, the clubs in District 5020 have raised roughly $2,000. Any money raised over the goal will go toward helping achieve Levi’s Wish and assisting his family.

Fundraising is more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to both Rotarians. With lowered participation over Zoom meetings, it is harder to get full member support and awareness.

The Spokane chapter will fill in whatever gaps are needed to reach the full price of the chair, Guthrie said.

Without the Rotary Clubs’ help, Morgan said there was no way the family could have paid for Levi’s chair. 

“When you have a medically fragile child, everything is snowballing,” Morgan said. “Nothing stops. Bills don’t stop coming, and new bills don’t stop being created. Anything with the medical community is expensive.”

Fulfillment and follow-up

The past eight months have been especially challenging for the Knoches. Levi went in for surgery December 2019 that was supposed to last a few days but ended up putting him in and out of the hospital for three months. 

Levi lost much of the strength he had built up, Morgan said, and immediately the family was thrust into quarantine.

Throughout the challenging times, Morgan especially admires her son’s resilience.

“Even with three months in the hospital and all this craziness, he’s still the happiest kid,” she said.

Although there isn’t a strict time frame for the purchasing of the chair, Guthrie hopes it will be ready for Levi within six months. 

When that time comes, the foundation will prepare a Wish Reveal party to present the Active Trackstander NR to Levi in Port Ludlow, and community partners and donors like the EJC Rotary Club will be invited to celebrate with him.

“He and his family will get a bigger picture of the strength of Rotary,” Wynkoop said of the presentation.

“The Wish is only the beginning,” Guthrie said. “He’ll always be part of the Wishing Star family.”

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