| LAKELAND - Bobby
Boedicker has been taunted and called a panhandler.
| He has had french fries
thrown at him. He has even been spit on
while sitting in his wheelchair collecting
donations to help the handicapped.
| Maybe he is just
| Boedicker, a quadriplegic
since a 1978 car accident, has operated a charity
called Help the Handicapped Inc. since March 1989.
| His shoestring yearly
administrative budget - $4,800 in 2001 - is used
to pay his apartment-home office rent and buy
stamps and other supplies.
| A small portion, $110 a
month, pays for his medications.
| The rest goes to helping
others in need.
| "When I started this
organization, a lot of people said, "Bobby is
only going to be able to help Bobby," "
| But he has helped thousands
who found themselves down on their luck because of
medical problems or disabilities. Boedicker raised about
$50,000 last year, and years past have brought in
$20,000 to $35,000.
| An annual golf tournament
held in August is his signature event. It gives the
"best prizes in Polk," said Eric Rauch, a Polk
County sheriff's sergeant who plays the tournament
every year. "He's a great guy, and it's a
| By networking with hotels and
tourist attractions throughout Florida, Boedicker
is able to provide "everyone who plays" with a
prize. He then mails each of his 150 or so sponsors
a handwritten thank-you note with pictures
| But Boedicker's main source
of money comes from those he "meets
and greets" in front of Publix or Wal-Mart
twice a week, when he sometimes spends 10 hours a
day in the sun.
| His spinal cord injury
affected his sweat glands, and he is prone to
heat stroke. But he will not quit.
| "God gave me a gift -
the gift of helping others," he said.
No Frills Charity
| Boedicker is not about
| "All we started with is
a shoe box, $6 and faith, not necessarily in
that order," he said.
| Meeting and greeting has
gained not only donations for the organization, but
also for clients. He does not advertise, but word of
| Help the Handicapped has paid
for wheelchair ramps, groceries, utility bills and
medicines for people with disabilities who ran into
trouble making ends meet.
| The tools of his trade
include a telephone, pads of paper, a pen and a
fax machine. He is assisted by his "soul mate,
best friend and trooper," Cheri Alleman.
| Last year, Boedicker debated
"for months" over whether to buy the
fax machine because he thought it might be getting
"just a little too fancy," said Lorenzo
McCloud, Help the Handicapped's volunteer director.
Charity Of Last Resort
| Boedicker, at times, has his
own share of physical pain. But as quick as
he brings up his own woes, he drops them and
changes the subject.
| "Every time I think
about quitting, the phone will ring and it's
someone who needs help." For many, like
Josephine Redding, he was their last resort.
| Redding, 62, is not one to
ask for a handout. "I'd rather leave the
help for others who need it," she said.
| But when her husband left
her, Redding, who has diabetes and arthritis,
ran into financial trouble. Living on a $554
disability check became a challenge. When her gas
was turned off, she reluctantly turned to charity
| She called the United Way and
was referred to other local charities funded by the
United Way, only to find there were "no funds
| Redding heard about Help the
Handicapped from a neighbor and looked Boedicker up
in the telephone book. About an hour later, her gas bill
Screening Out Scammers
| Boedicker is no fool. He
might not have the latest in modern technology, but
he can interrogate like a skilled detective.
| He asks for Social Security
number, income and other probing questions. It's
Boedicker's personal screening process.
| "Sometimes, I get the
phone slammed in my ear," he said. He wants to
make sure that those he helps are truly in need.
| "I take the time to
listen. If you listen to people long
enough, eventually [someone who isn't being
truthful] will dig themselves in a hole."
| By comparison, the more
sophisticated United Way of Central
Florida maintains a database of those who have
sought direct assistance in the past. "It's
not to catch people. It's to help people with program
services," said President Terry Worthington.
| Boedicker said the United Way
occasionally will help him screen a client, but he
won't join or accept any funding from the organization
because he disagrees with the way bigger charities
| "They say they are out
of funds. If they are out of funds, how do they
pay their electric, their rent, their
| Worthington said the United
Way of Central Florida doesn't give
direct assistance to every person who has a need
but focuses more on rehabilitation and self-help
| "We don't touch some of
those very extreme and profound needs," he
said. But the United Way, which received more than
$9 million last year, funds 150 programs and
services, from cardiopulmonary resuscitation training to
drug prevention to help for the homeless. About
$100,000 each year is used to help working people
in crisis situations.
| "Those funds are very
discretionary," Worthington said. "If [Boedicker] never
runs out of funds, I'd like to know his secret."
| The secret, said Boedicker,
is low overhead costs, the lack of red tape, and
his personalized method of operation.
| A list of those who have
received his help goes on and on.
| There's Debbie Simmons, a
mother of two who had multiple strokes that
left her paralyzed. Boedicker paid for the
materials to build a wheelchair ramp at her Lake
Wales mobile home. "I admire Bobby," she said.
"He's not in any shape to do anything for
anybody, but he does it. It's his priority."
| And it includes those
referred to him from larger nonprofits with much
| Good Shepherd Hospice of
Mid-Florida, an organization funded by the
United Way, is frequently helped by Boedicker.
| Deana Neely, a social worker
at Good Shepherd, met him a few years ago while he
was fundraising in front of Publix. Neely said she can
count on Boedicker. "He is "always
willing to help my clients when I have
problems getting assistance" from much larger
agencies," she said.
| Neely recalled a case that
touched her heart. "We had a lady whose
last request was to be taken to church. She needed
to be taken on a stretcher, and someone had to stay
with her." When Neely couldn't find a nonprofit
agency to provide that service, she called
Boedicker. "He never questioned that [request]. He
got to work on it right away." The woman was
at peace after her trip to church and died about two
weeks later, Neely said.
A Life's Mission
| Boedicker says he's just
doing what he's supposed to be doing. He feels
it in his heart.
| He exchanged one dream for
another. He had just tried out for
professional baseball when he was injured. He hopes
to one day have a baseball field in his name where
children with special needs can play. "I'll have it
some day," he said.
| Then, the phone rang again.
| "Help the Handicapped
Inc. How can I help you?"
|(CHART) (C) HOW TO CONTACT
How to reach Help the Handicapped Inc.:
By mail: P.O. Box 1114, Lakeland FL 33802-1114
By telephone: (863) 683-1764