There’s a new and rather unlikely lawn care business starting up. A young Elkhorn man, Chance Todder, who lives life beyond the confines of his wheelchair, has just recently started his own business, having acquired a shiny new zero-turn lawn mower.
Getting the right equipment was not a simple matter, but specialized equipment was made available through the good will of others along with a series of blessed co-incidences, as his mother Jolene explains it.
As many know, Todder suffered a massive stroke (a result of heart surgery) as an 11 year-old boy. This put him in a wheelchair. Now, in his early 20s, Todder has only the use of his right hand, so a joystick had to be fitted for the right side of the ride-on mower.
His mother, Jolene Todder explains, “That’s why we kept hitting brick walls. Lawn mowers are adapted for people with spinal cord injuries.” But, to find a machine with a right hand joy stick to operate all its functions was another matter.
Mark Humphries, owner of Westwood Ranch Garden Centre, had first met Chance as a school bus driver. He later approached the Todder family with the prospect of hiring the young man. The story really began when the Todder family first visited Westwood Ranch, some years ago now.The first thing they noticed at the business was the wheelchair accessibility – real accessibility. “When Jill Humphries explained that her sister-in-law was also in a wheelchair, then it made sense to me,” said Todder. “These people live in this ‘world’, they see what we see.”
Mark and Jill Humphries were full of vision of things that Todders’ son Chance could learn to do, and offered to hire him.
As a mother, Todder was excited to hear these things. “It was incredible to talk to somebody who wanted to have someone with a disability working there. With Mark’s humour, he made it plain that this was a real job.” With that, Humphries always sought to have Chance work independently.
So, the young man was already a paid employee, cleaning up, feeding animals, guiding tours and supervising the children’s bouncy house when Mark Humphries sent the family a photo depicting something else he thought Chance could do to help out at Westwood Ranch Garden Centre; and that’s where the idea of a specialized lawn mower came from.
“We’re so glad to have [the Humphries] part of the team. They’re always thinking outside the box for people with disabilities,” Todder says, calling them very creative people.
Country Clipper from Lindenberg Seeds.
To put the plan into action was the next challenge. Time was passing and the family still couldn’t find a machine that would work for Chance. In desperation Jolene Todder found a BLOG about a wife, whose husband had had a stroke that left him feeling of no value in this world - until he found a certain lawn mower - the Country Clipper.
“It turns out there’s one sitting in the showroom of Lindenberg Seeds,” says Todder, her voice brimming with excitement recalling the moment they made the discovery.
She phoned the business and asked if they could take the lawn mower to Health Science Centre in Winnipeg for adaptations, offering to leave their credit card number; but adding, if it can’t be fitted for Chance, they would be returning it. Todder said, Al from Lindenberg’s in Brandon agreed.
In Winnipeg, Todders took the machine to an “amazing team” they had previously stumbled upon when they were in Winnipeg for a totally unrelated reason – Grant and Dennis. At this fortuitous meeting Todder had spoken of their hopes to have a lawn mower fitted for their son who was in a wheelchair.
“I had said to them in passing, ‘we would really like to adapt a lawn mower’.” The one man was surprised, and noted that he was retiring within a year and asked them to get it done before then.
Todders were also little concerned about the cost of this idea, knowing how much simple adaptations (such as adding a light) for the wheelchair cost. “We knew that to completely adapt a lawn mower, we were probably looking at $10,000 to $15,000.”
Through another series of small miracles, Todders took the wheelchair into Winnipeg, as it turned out, on the last possible day before the Occupational Therapist took a year’s maternity leave. She had to give the driving assessments for the adaptation. “They couldn’t have gone forward with the transformation of the lawn mower,” explained Todder. Had they missed her, by the time she would have returned from mat’ leave (a year later), Dennis (of Grant and Dennis), would have retired.
“Everything just lined up – from finding the mower at Lindenberg’s Seeds, in the show room, to this being [the OT’s] last hours in employment, to Dennis retiring this year – if we hadn’t picked that specific day, we wouldn’t have had any of it,” says Todder - at least not any time soon.
The family was still thinking it would cost a bundle, maybe as much as $10,000 for the adaptation. But the workers said they had a used part, and figured it would cost about $250.
“We bought the lawn mower; Chance had gotten a gift that he [invested].” And although the family was prepared to make an investment into their son’s business to fund the adaptation, the more than reasonable help from Dennis and Grant was an ever-so welcome blessing.
Todder’s mower is a 60-inch cut. Although his target client is the farm community, initially he’s going to work with Mark Humphries first to work out the kinks, although he has been practicing on the church behind the family’s home. Fred McLean, Chance’s homecare worker has been helping Chance with the details.
Leave it to Chance Lawn Care business is on its way. “We’re working with Elevate Manitoba now to make this an official business for Chance. We’re just in the starting process,” said Jolene Todder in late May.
When asked how he felt when he first rode his adapted lawn mower, Chance said, “It was very exciting.”
He said it felt good to be able to drive the mower and he is pleased about the opportunities it will afford him, adding, “I just like helping people.”