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Group of retirees from Clay County is giving the gift of mobility to the world

A group of retirees from Penney Farms volunteers their time to build carts for people who can't walk.

PENNEY FARMS, Fla. — It's a basic human function that many of us take for granted, but across the world, nearly 20 million people deal with serious mobility issues. From paralysis to polio and even the loss of limbs from stepping on landmines in war torn countries, walking isn't an option for many people. 

That's where a group of retirees from Clay County comes in.

From the road, it looks like your average retirement community along route 16 west of Green Cove Springs. But inside of Penney Farms is a shop that is changing lives around the world.

"Do as much as you can for as many as you can for as long as you can," said Penney Farms PET Florida volunteer, Dave Quirk, "...that's what this whole place is about, is helping others."

Comprised entirely of volunteers, these retirees spend hours a day cutting, sanding and building Personal Energy Transportation carts (PET carts), that when completed, can be powered by a seated person with no electricity. It's the work of volunteers in Florida that give the gift of mobility to people all across the world.

PETs were first produced in Missouri by a man named Larry Hills, but when Hills moved to Florida in 2001 he started working on carts in Clay County. Ninety-five-year-old Sid Rooy has been a volunteer with Penney Farms group since day 1.

"It's a blessing to be able to provide a new lease on life for people who are immobile," said Rooy.

PETs have been delivered to 106 countries over the past two decades and the group is closing in on completing their 13,000th cart.

"It doesn't just help 13,000 people," said Rooy, "it helps probably 100,000, maybe more because it affects a family, it affects a people."

"When you get a PET it's not only life changing for the person, but the whole family," says Quirk, "it gives them dignity, it gives them purpose."

Often times people in developing countries with mobility issues wear sandals on their hands because they crawl on the ground so frequently.  Life changes when they get their pet cart. And the PET carts themselves have also changed over time.

"We thought people would just ride from point A to B," said Quirk, "but then we found out that they build it as a workplace and they're sitting there 8 hours a day, it's just lifechanging, that's what it's all about."

And for 21 years that's been what Sid Rooy's life has been about -- service to others around the world.

"When you see the difference it makes in people's lives, not just 1 person, the 13,000, but in the family, the neighborhood, that's such an invigorating an inspiring thought," said Rooy, who at 95 years old isn't slowing down.  "It's how you live and what you're doing for each other that counts, and so that's what drives me."

That same feeling drives the roughly 70 committed volunteers at Penney Farms.  Retirees hard at work to make the world a better place.

PET Florida at Penney Farms hopes to ship out their next order of carts within a month and have them delivered in Kenya by July.  It costs roughly $350 for materials to build each PET cart and the organization is a non-profit run by volunteers. 

If you would like to donate or learn more about the organization, click here.

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