BizVoiceExtra: Small Indiana Town Helps Villagers Thousands of Miles Away

Toward the end of my telephone interview with Bob Gabrielse for an article in the July-August issue of BizVoice magazine, he politely asked if he could quickly take another call, apologizing for the interruption.

A trucking company was on the other end of the line, hoping to deliver 200 parts about an hour later. The vehicle wasn’t heading to Gabrielse’s law office in DeMotte, but to a production shop where he devotes several hours each week overseeing the work and building hand-pedaled mobility carts through Mobility Ministries (

The sturdy three-wheeled carts travel from Indiana to rural areas in Africa where adults and children who can’t walk gain the freedom that comes with independent mobility – the ability to leave a hut or village without relying on another person to carry them. Unlike canes or walkers, these units also have an area for goods or packages.

Since opening the first facility in 2011, DeMotte Mobility Ministries has become a bit of a leader among the affiliate Mobility Worldwide locations, says Gabrielse, who is currently working to develop a prototype that’s lighter than the current model, making it easier to pedal. He and Arla, his wife of 45 years, manage the shop.

Both have played a major role in the DeMotte facility from the start after Bob read about this type of work in a magazine from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where his kids had gone to school.

He tells me how he got involved, which also reveals a connection to previous overseas charity work.

“I saw an article in there from somebody I had met in Central America who was now retired and living in Florida near Jacksonville, and they had a shop that was building these mobility carts. They had a picture of him in there with one of them, and I thought, ‘You know, this town is small here. We’re not very big in DeMotte, but they (residents) have a good heart. They’re generous people with a good work ethic. We can do that here.’ ”

And they do.

With a schedule of seven or eight units a week, volunteers at the Indiana location now produce 350 to 400 a year in the current 7,200-square-foot production space.

“We have 55 to 60 retirees that volunteer at the shop. They work about four hours a week, and these are people from all over here, not just DeMotte,” he stresses. “They come from 20, 30 miles away to work, and they are very devoted to this. They love the camaraderie that the shop gives to a retiree.”

He adds that the working conditions are nice – cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In addition, “They just really enjoy the ministry.”

It is a ministry, especially for Gabrielse.

“As a Christian, I feel it’s very important that we serve others,” he shares. “We shouldn’t be taking. We should be giving.”

The Indianapolis-based Malawi Project ( is currently the distribution partner for Mobility Worldwide, of which the Indiana Mobility Ministries is one production location. (The nonprofit also worked with the Luke Commission for distribution.)

Reading about and listening to Gabrielse talk about this project spotlighted two points for me:

  1. The latest and greatest technology is not only sometimes unnecessary, it may even be unhelpful.

Not only does it take better infrastructure to support technological solutions, but simpler, cheaper options may be more practical. For example, these basic carts may be more rugged and easier to repair than a motorized chair would be, even if it could withstand the roots and uneven surfaces. It’s a good reminder that when looking for a solution or result, be sure it’s sustainable and suitable.

  1. Don’t underestimate what you – with the support of your community – can do.

In this case, one person read one magazine article that offered a solution to a problem. Through hard work and commitment, that led to a team of retirees joining together to improve the lives of hundreds of others 8,000 miles away. That’s pretty amazing.

For Gabrielse, helping others is a calling, and he also brings that dedication to his legal practice in a small town of 4,000.

He isn’t alone.

The other attorneys I talked to about practicing law in small communities also stressed the ability to help others – especially where they lived – as a gratifying part of their work.

Find out what it’s like to practice law in a small community in the July-August BizVoice article, “Doing What It Takes: Attorneys Serve Community Needs.”

IUPUI Helping to Fill Green Jobs

We’ve documented the forward thinking going on at Indiana’s colleges and universities on this blog many times. Today’s offering includes Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis’ (IUPUI) new program to help future workers be more educated about green technology.

The Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI is happy to announce a new “Sustainable Technologies Certificate” available to help students prepare for the changing green job market. This certificate is designed to address a growing need for professionals who can contribute to the green workforce with knowledge in sustainable practices in current technologies. The Sustainable Technologies Certificate is useful to students who want to have knowledge in areas of green building, renewable energies and sustainable design.

In the United States, sustainability has gained importance in business, industry, government, higher education, and in the general public’s consciousness. The goal of meeting today’s needs without harming future generations’ ability to realize their potential is a hallmark of sustainable practices. There is widespread interest from many disciplines and sectors in developing, enhancing, and integrating sustainability into all aspects of products, services and solutions. Thus, the need to equip students with the knowledge, skills and perspectives to make contributions to sustainable initiatives has never been greater.

Green jobs are rapidly being created as the economy begins embracing sustainable, energy- efficient and low-carbon practices. The Sustainable Technologies Certificate is designed to help guide future professionals who can contribute to the green global workforce. For more information on the certificate, contact Professor Pat Fox at [email protected].

Nation’s Capital Says “Not So Fast” on Reimbursing Residents for Solar Panels

"Yaaaaaaa. About that…."

Government programs that incentivize citizens for responsible and eco-friendly behavior can certainly be beneficial at times. However, this tale from Washington, D.C. shows what happens to well-intentioned residents when the government doesn’t follow through. The Washington Post dishes the disappointing news:

It isn’t easy going green, and it may also prove costly.

Dozens of District residents who installed solar panels on their homes under a government grant program promoting renewable energy have been told they will not be reimbursed thousands of dollars as promised because the funds were diverted to help close a citywide budget gap.

In all, the city has reneged on a commitment of about $700,000 to 51 residents, according to the D.C. Department of the Environment. The agency has pledged to try to find money in next year’s budget, its director, Christophe Tulou, said.

"It just doesn’t seem fair to go through a process with them and have them make investments in solar panels under the assumption they would be reimbursed," Tulou acknowledged. "It’s really sad we are having these economic woes when we are."

The abrupt suspension of the city’s Renewable Energy Incentive Plan, an annual $2 million fund that was supposed to last through fiscal 2012, threatens to dampen budding enthusiasm for clean energy among homeowners. The program has helped 315 people install solar panels, with another 417 on a waiting list that has been closed by city officials.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who is leading the push for a sustainable energy utility to encourage green energy in the District, said officials are scouring the environment agency’s budget in hopes of finding reimbursement money for the 51 homeowners this year.

But, she said, "I would think people would take a cautious approach" to future installations.

When Green Isn’t as Green as it Seems

In today’s world of carbon footprints, sustainability and simply all green all the time, there’s a lot of greenbacks to be made by advocating your environmental friendliness. And, like most other similar concerns, the vast majority of people on the green bandwagon are there for the right reasons and being upfront about their products and services.

As we have the last two years, we’re going to highlight some of those companies, organizations and communities in the July-August BizVoice magazine. (Check out the last two years: 2009 and 2008 issues). There are good stories to tell, and we’ve got excellent writers on staff who will do just that.

But the growth of green was closely followed by "greenwashing," defined as misleading information about environmental practices or benefits. Recently, Energy Star products that may not be as efficient as advertised and green buildings that don’t always live up to that label have been in the news. Are there other "not so fast on the green claims" that are out there? Let us know your thoughts and any leads would be appreciated.

It will be another great "going green" issue, but if some green initiatives are leaving you feeling blue, we want to report on those too.

Green Living Isn’t for the Birds

Recycling, gardening, composting … all fairly standard for the environmentally conscious Hoosier. But raising chickens in your backyard?

That’s one I never considered. When Tony Nicholas told me a few months ago that was his family’s latest venture toward sustainability, I knew I had to learn more.

After spending an afternoon with the Nicholas clan, the chicken thing started to make sense. Tony’s family rarely needs to buy eggs, and they say the taste is incredible. Taking care of chickens is fairly easy when you only need a few. Read more about how the Nicholas family is living the green life in the July-August issue of BizVoice magazine.

It seems the backyard coop is becoming increasingly popular. The New York Times recently featured a story about the growing number of families raising chickens to increase self-sufficiency.

Now, where can I find some chicken wire?

Hitting a (Green) High Note

Sweetwater Sound, the third largest music instrument and pro audio retailer in the world, has gone platinum.

The company’s Fort Wayne campus is Indiana’s first commercial building to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification (the highest rating) from the U.S. Green Building Council. Unveiled in January 2008, the 150,000-square-foot facility contains office, retail, warehouse and studio space. 

Among sustainability construction/design features:

• 19,026 (or 98%) tons of construction waste were diverted from landfills

• 31.4% of materials contain recycled content

• 80% of regularly occupied spaces throughout the office have access to daylight

• Annual water usage savings total 54% (restrooms contain waterless urinals; low-flow, light-powered faucets with occupant sensors; and dual flush toilets)

• 44% of materials were extracted, harvested, recovered and manufactured within 500 miles of the project site

Great to hear that one of Indiana’s growing success stories is receiving additional recognition for its environmental efforts. See the company details; read about Sweetwater Sound in the March-April 2008 BizVoice magazine; check out the current "green" issue of BizVoice.

Sign (Makers) of the Times

Pratt Corporation, an Indianapolis-based company specializing in promotional signs, has added a green component to its business. Pratt, which makes the in-store signage for Lowe’s home improvement stores — among other clients, is now dedicated to using environmentally-friendly practices.

Pratt Corporation has formed an internal green task force to take on the initiative of becoming more eco-friendly. The task force has made great strides in proactively challenging current processes and determining more earth friendly ways to produce. The application of sustainable practices has been implemented throughout the entire facilities and has extended into customer collaboration. Listed below are only a few of the endeavors Pratt is making in this continual effort.

Last August, Pratt became one of the first companies to be certified as a Sustainable Green Printer by the Specialty Graphics Imaging Association (SGIA). The SGIA notes that it created the honor because many companies now prefer to do business with printers and graphic providers that have implemented policies to address social and environmental issues.

Pratt now adheres to green printing policies and has issued a statement of sustainability as well.

Quality Printing, an Anderson-based printing company, also created a guideline for sustainable printing practices, and has recently complemented its efforts by using wind energy to power its manufacturing facility. Read all about the company in the new edition of BizVoice.

Winds of Change?

If you haven’t heard anything about wind energy in Indiana over the past year or so, then you haven’t been listening (or you’ve been too caught up in the "Jon & Kate Plus 8" saga, which is totally understandable).

But our friends at Inside INdiana Business offered an interesting article today in which an expert from Purdue University suggested the possibility exists that wind energy might even be more profitable than corn, at least for some Hoosier farmers.

A Purdue University Extension renewable energy specialist believes the wind industry is becoming a once in a generation opportunity for the Indiana agriculture community. Chad Martin will guide a session during this month’s WIndiana conference in Indianapolis. He says the base lease payment for farmers to put a turbine on their property has increased over the past few years to the $3,000 to $5,000 range per year per megawatt of production. Some are getting up to $10,000 a year per turbine. 

Also, feel free to read my piece in the July/August BizVoice magazine, which features the latest goings on with wind energy in Indiana.

On a related note, Brevini Wind USA  and VAT-Group USA will hold prospective windpower Supplier Conferences on July 23 in Muncie. To learn more or to be considered, check out (see Brevini’s info here and VAT-Group info here).

Global Warming Debate Still a Debate

Read the current issue of BizVoice magazine (available online today and in the mail to regular subscribers) and you will find the words green, environment and sustainability throughout. The "going green" focus features companies, communities and initiatives related to environmentally friendly products and practices. Global warming is cited as one of the reasons for action by some.

But despite an increase in the attention to global warming, the scientific debate is apparently far from over. The Heartland Institute reports that more than 30,000 scientists signed a petition "rejecting the assertion that global warming has reached a crisis stage and is caused by human activity."

The Heartland article tells one side of the story; numerous resources provide the flip side of the coin. What do you think? How serious is global warming? How big of an impact do human activities have on our environment?