Bill Akers is 85 but still spry in blue jeans and sneakers, and Friday he delivered a message.
“You didn’t just steal from us, you stole from the kids,” he said.
The last part broke his voice.
Sometime after Thanksgiving, a thief or thieves broke into a woodworking shop where Akers and 24 or so other telephone company retirees make scooters, special high chairs, walkers, Braille alphabet boards and other rehabilitative items for physically challenged children.
According to a police report, nearly $5,000 worth of tools was taken, including five new sets of power drills and drivers. The theft report listed five pages of stolen items.
“Some kids aren’t going to get what they need because we don’t have the tools to make them,” said Akers, who manages the CHARM (Children Helped and Rehabilitation Motivated) shop in east Kansas City.
“And that’s what hurts most. What we do here, we hold dear. These kids have things that they need help on and we’re not going to be able to get it to them.”
He shook his head. He doesn’t understand.
Akers, who worked 46 years as an electrical engineer for Western Electric and AT&T, was in the shop Friday and kept finding that more things were missing.
The theft was discovered by an exterminator who noticed that a lock on a wooden toolbox had been broken off. The thieves gained entry by breaking a window. None of the stolen items was insured.
“We operate on just donations, so I don’t know how long it’ll take for us to catch up,” said Don Orrell, another volunteer.
The CHARM workshop is the bottom floor beneath offices for Groves Community Hospice at 15600 Woods Chapel Road. Every Tuesday and Wednesday, volunteers from the Telecom Pioneers organization show up to make the wooden products that go to rehabilitation centers, schools and homes all over the metro area.
Products found in the CHARM catalog include therapy stools, floor sitters to help children who can’t maintain sitting positions, walking ladders, balance beams to help with coordination and wooden trays for wheelchairs.
“If a therapist tells us that a child has an even more special need, we’ll tweak something until it works for them,” Orrell said.
The volunteers also make toys and educational items such as pegboards, stacking posts and abacuses.
“Look here,” Akers said as he showed a “prone stander” that helps children learn to walk. “A 10-year-old boy who couldn’t walk got one of these and in six months took his first step.
“That’s why what they did to us hurts so much.”
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182
Want to help?
Donations may be sent to: Telecom Pioneers, P.O. Box 380014, Kansas City, MO 64138.