In mid-summer 1970, Don Bania had just graduated from high school and was working at his father’s service station in downtown Minneapolis. Bania decided one day to put on his motorcycle helmet and go for a joy ride.
In a telephone interview, 63-year-old Bania said, “My life turned upside down that day when a drunk driver turned into my lane. I instinctively squeezed the brakes on my motorcycle and everything turned into slo-motion. It was like watching a movie. I had just enough time to say these eight words in my head: ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me.’ When my motorcycle hit the car broadside, everything went black, I saw stars, and I woke up flat on my back in the middle of an intersection with a crowd of strangers standing over me.”
He had broken his neck and would be permanently paralyzed below-shoulder.
He said, “I thought, Why me? We’re always taught God is a God of love. But looking at my broken body, this to me did not look like an act of love at all. Over the next seven years, I had a lot of confusion. I had bitterness from blaming the drunk driver. Alcohol and drugs were my way to escape. Then (my addictions) landed me into an elderly care center at age 26. My roommate was 76.”
He said his life began changing when a nurse’s aide started reading the Bible to him during lunch breaks, and then two men named Chester and Lester, from a neighboring church, began visiting.
Fast forwarding to today, Bania over the last 16 years has been a regional lead volunteer for Wheels for the World, a program of Joni and Friends, a faith-based nonprofit. He oversees used wheelchair collection efforts in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Since 2000, he said, his cumulative efforts until recently had helped fill more than a dozen semi-trailers holding perhaps 3,000 wheelchairs. The wheelchairs have been trucked to correctional facilities where trained inmates restore them to showroom-ready quality, after which Joni and Friends volunteer teams distribute them to people in poorer nations. The volunteers custom-fit the wheelchairs to recipients.
Recently, Bania worked with Delta Airlines employees in Minneapolis on a herculean wheelchair collection drive that harvested an additional 5,000 used wheelchairs from individuals and care facilities. Bania said the wheelchairs will positively change the lives of tens of thousands of people overseas.