As I sat next to my brother's hospital bed in the ICU, I waited for his eyes to open. They had remained closed for about a month during a medically induced coma. No one, not even his doctors, knew what to expect if, or when, Lance would wake up. But my parents were unwavering in their optimism. They remained laser-focused planning for his future.
They wanted to find a way to bring purposeful work to my brother. Lance was born with Trisomy 4Q: a chromosomal abnormality that results in physical and mental developmental delays. My parents always considered his abilities, not in terms of limits, but rather in terms of what he could do better than anyone else. They wanted his life to be full.
Lance loves car rides more than anything else in the world. He also loves volunteering in the community; especially stocking the produce shelves at Summit Produce. Lance has a unique way of bringing the best out of people. That is how Waigand Wheels first began.
Theresa Waigand has never stopped advocating for her son and my brother. When she was told Lance would not make it to birth, she found another doctor. When she was told he would never hold a job, she made one. When Lance left the hospital (on his birthday) in May 2018, Theresa already had a plan in motion that would bring Lance joy and provide an opportunity for other individuals with disabilities to find fulfillment and pride in their lives. Waigand Wheels Delivery launched as a not-for-profit, providing meaningful and productive volunteer opportunities and pre-employment training for individuals with developmental disabilities while serving the community through home deliveries.
"Employment gives individuals a sense of purpose and self-worth," states Theresa. "Work does more than provide financial independence; it helps connect us."
Theresa believes that every individual deserves the opportunity to be full members of a community where they can work and learn throughout their lives. After noticing the lack of opportunities for individuals like Lance after aging out of school, she took that belief and made it a reality. The concept was easy; building it was difficult.
"We were anxious, nervous, and excited all at once," Theresa admits. "We didn't exactly know where to start, so we started at home."
Theresa took on all the logistics. My dad, Richard, did the accounting. I worked on outreach and marketing. My brother Nathan supported Lance, who served as our Chief Delivery Officer.
Theresa started a Facebook profile for Lance and posted an order form for deliveries from Summit Produce. It immediately sold out each week, so she began to think of ways to scale up.
"We realized we needed a more strategic partnership with Summit Produce that would allow customers to get what they ordered," Theresa explains. "Summit has been a key part of our success. They embraced our mission, and they embraced Lance."
Waigand Wheels gained momentum in its second year, adding a website, and recruiting other individuals with disabilities (“Wagoneers”) by reaching out to local families and organizations like the St. Louis Arc and Sunnyhill. Pat Alster, the mother of a Wagoneer, has seen the opportunities Waigand Wheels has provided her son.
"It gives him something to do that is meaningful and has made us realize what skills he can capitalize on."
The more Wagoneers that showed up, the more inspired our family became to invest in the growth of the business. But Waigand Wheels was halted in its third year, along with the rest of the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Work has changed to avoid risking the health of volunteers. The number of Wagoneers has been reduced, and home deliveries are being completed safely from the car.
Despite challenges, Waigand Wheels realized the community became stronger together. The organization has already surpassed last year's deliveries, thanks primarily to support from neighbors like Rob Monroe, who became a regular customer this past summer.
"I am an able-bodied person and can go to the farmers market, but to me, it's a no-brainer to support an organization that helps people with developmental delays to be [active] participants in our community," Rob states. "I love seeing the Wagoneers that have grown up here do this awesome work."
Now more than ever, Waigand Wheels has provided meaningful and safe ways for Wagoneers to stay connected to our community.
"We really feel so lucky to be a part of this incredible community," Theresa praises. "We could not deliver upon our mission without that support."
Waigand Wheels Delivery