Jacobs Gains Mobility Freedom Through Outdoor Ability

Logan Black, a Conservation Enforcement Officer with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, approached Nate Jacobs and said she’d heard about him hunting a certain piece of property. Black played her part in the ruse well and had Nate squirming, wondering where he’d run afoul of the law.

That’s when Outdoor Ability Foundation’s Scott Phillips unveiled a new Action Trackchair that was being presented to Nate for his 16th birthday. The look of concern on Nate’s face quickly turned into a wide grin when he realized he wasn’t in trouble and the all-terrain wheelchair was for him.

Jacobs has been in a wheelchair since he suffered a stroke during heart surgery when he was 5 years old. He’s always loved to hunt and fish, but mobility has been a serious obstacle.

The way Outdoor Ability Foundation found out about Nate was through the Kidz Outdoors (kidzoutdoors.org) program, an organization started by Carol and Rick Clark of Hueytown to help kids with disabilities get outdoors.

“Nate had gone hunting with Kidz Outdoors, and Carol told me about him,” Phillips said. “I connected with Wes, Nate’s dad, and we made sure Nate didn’t know about the chair. We did the fundraising for the chair without him knowing it.

“We set the organization up based on our model, what happened to us. We go out and find the track chairs or whatever equipment is needed. I’m usually able to get these chairs at less than retail. We ask the families to raise half the money, and we raise the other half because it gets more people involved. It also lets more people know about the needs of the disabled kids who want their freedom to go hunting and fishing. You get family, friends and the community involved with the focus of let’s get this kid outdoors.

“Nate loves to fish and hunt. I told Wes not to stress about the money, that God will provide it. Once people know what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it, it will happen. It happened within a month.”

With fundraising just short of the goal, Donnie Yates, Phillips’ right-hand man at the foundation, reached out to Vance Wood, WFF officer and member of the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association (ACEOA), and asked if the association could provide the remaining funds for the chair. Wood made the presentation to the ACEOA board, which approved the funding.

The ACEOA has 140 members from State Parks, State Lands, Marine Resources and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

“Our mission is to perform public education and outreach and enhance professional standards,” Wood said of the ACEOA. “It was very satisfying to see Nate get the chair. We’re happy when we can help give a child the ability to enjoy what our great outdoors has to offer.”

Phillips added, “We got wildlife officers (Black and Lt. Brian Fisher) to help us present the chair. What was neat about it was Wes had trained Officer Black when she went through the police academy. We had that connection also.”

Phillips’ son, 23-year-old Grayson, has spina bifida, which led to the formation of Outdoor Ability Foundation in Gardendale.

“At the age of 10 Grayson wanted to go hunting,” Phillips said. “I did not grow up hunting, but we said okay if that’s what he wanted to do. We’ve told him all his life that he can do anything he wanted to, but he’ll have to do it differently. We connected with several organizations that took him hunting, and we’re very grateful for that. It gave him the bug to do more and more, but we didn’t have a way to get him from point A to point B.”

The lack of mobility was highlighted on a turkey hunt with Grayson.

“The guides had a popup blind for him,” Phillips said. “We knew where the turkeys were, but they wouldn’t come to us. We decided to take Grayson to a point a little closer to the birds. I had to throw Grayson over my shoulder and drag his wheelchair. The guides were gathering all the stuff they needed to get to the next position. It had rained and it was muddy, not good conditions to try to be doing this.

“I thought there’s got to be a better way to get someone in a wheelchair from point A to point B. I started to do some research and ran across Action Trackchairs.”

Phillips called the Action Trackchair rep in Georgia and asked about the chairs and the cost. When the rep quoted $12,000, he knew the family couldn’t afford it.

“I think Grayson was 13 or 14 at the time, and we didn’t have that kind of cash,” he said.

The Phillips family met the chair rep at a basketball tournament, where Grayson was playing for the Lakeshore Foundation, and he brought a chair for Grayson to test.

“He tried it and loved it, but we still didn’t have $12,000,” the elder Phillips said. “A few months later, I get a lead on a used chair. I called the people. It was their father’s chair, and he had just passed away. They wanted $8,500 for it. I told them I didn’t have $8,500, but if they’d give me a little time, I would try to raise that money.”

Phillips started a GoFundMe account, sold brownies, held car washes and other fundraising events. About half the money needed was raised from those efforts, and the deadline was coming up quickly. Then a private donor stepped in and graciously provided the remainder of the funds needed to purchase the chair.

“We met the people with the chair in Florida, where they lived,” he said. “Grayson got on the beach in the chair, and he was all over the place. It gave him the freedom to just go. We get back home, and he takes it to the woods, going everywhere he can go. He got his independence.

“When Grayson got his first deer after getting his chair, he wanted to drag the deer out of the woods, so that’s what he did. We decided at that time that we needed to help other disabled kids with the same desire to go hunting and fishing.”

Outdoor Ability Foundation was formed in 2014, and the first mobility chair was presented in 2016 to a youth in Gardendale. Nate’s presentation was the 14th for the foundation in seven states. Phillips also found out it wasn’t one-size-fits-all when it comes to dealing with disabilities.

“One of the kids had autism, so it’s not just mobility,” he said. “We try to find whatever adaptive equipment is necessary to help the kids. The father said he wouldn’t be able to mount the rifle to his shoulder and look through the scope, so we got him a screen that attached to the scope, and he was able to go hunting that way.

“The thing I talk about is being the game changer. When kids get these chairs or equipment, it’s a game changer, not only for the kids but for the parents.”

Wes Jacobs, a Tuscaloosa police officer who is involved with training at the Tuscaloosa Police Academy, agrees wholeheartedly with Phillips’ last statement.

“It’s made life so much easier for Nate and us,” Jacobs said. “It’s pretty much opened the door to so many opportunities for him to be independent that he would have never had without it.

“We live out in the country, so if we ever wanted to get outside and do something, we’d have to get him on the Polaris or get in the Jeep. The electronic chair he had is not made for the outdoors. A manual chair is not going to go over roots or through creeks with you trying to push it.

“Now we can put him in the track chair in the carport and he goes where he wants. He’s as happy as he can be. We took him to the beach, and he was able to go on the sand. It’s been great. It’s been a blessing, plain and simple. We’re very thankful to Kidz Outdoors and Outdoor Ability Foundation. They work well together on helping kids.”

Wes said Nate is a student at Berry High School, makes good grades and loves being around his friends.

“I love it,” Nate said of the track chair. “I can play in the creek and help Papa (his grandfather Arthur Williams) in the garden.”

Phillips added, “We need people to understand that it’s okay to go outside and have fun.”

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