In mid-1972, violence filled many areas of New York City. On July 19 of that year, Hank heard that his old gang acquaintance Tjader had been hit by a stray bullet during a shoot-out on a city street and left paralyzed from the chest down. Tjader was taken to Elmhurst Hospital. Word was sent to Hank that Tjader wanted to see him, and he began to visit regularly. Later, Tjader was transferred to what was then known as Goldwater Memorial Hospital on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. (The hospital later merged with Coler, located at the northern tip of the island.) Hank visited daily, and got to know other patients. Tjader was on what was known as the Young Adults Ward, which was mainly comprised of people with gunshot wounds.
The patients made him aware of the desperate need for basic items, particularly wheelchairs. Knowing of Hank’s love for basketball and involvement in coaching and working with young, rising stars, the Young Adults asked him for help. Among those asking for help was Charles Gray, who is now assistant director of the Occupational Therapy Department, and second in command.
Hank observed the difficulties that the many wheelchair-bound patients at the hospital faced in their daily lives, and the optimism and hope with which they faced those difficulties. Inspired by the spirit of the patients/residents at Goldwater, he was determined to improve the lives of the many wheelchair-bound patients.
In 1974 his basketball team, United Queens, was playing a championship game against a team called Brooklyn USA. He spoke to Lester Roberts (deceased), who was in charge of the opposing team, and suggested the idea of a charity game to raise money to buy wheelchairs. Some of Hank’s own group thought the idea was crazy, but Lester loved it! That game, which raised $5,000, was the start of what would become Wheelchair Charities, Inc. (WCI). Every penny of that $5,000 went directly to the patients. Today, Hank operates on the same principle, keeping overhead low—his organization is staffed with volunteers—so that profits go directly to those most in need.
His first fund-raiser was a 1973 talent show in the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House. That was followed the next year by a basketball game featuring local high school stars. In 1980, Carter held a gospel music show that has since become an annual event. The first charity dinner, held at a major Manhattan hotel ballroom in 1980, brought in between $12,000 and $15,000 alone!
In 1976, Hank began his association with Nike. It was indeed a match made in heaven. Young up-and-coming all-stars—many of whom became huge college and NBA stars—sported the Nike brand, growing that product, making a name for themselves, and most important—generating enormous charitable funds that enhanced the lives of New York’s indigent patients. Today Nike’s Jordan Brand is known worldwide. Howard White, senior vice president of Nike’s Jordan Brand, who Hank has known since 1983, has been a close friend and ally, and instrumental in the All-Star games and Fundraising Dinner. “Only God could have sent me a friend like Howard,” Carter noted.
Hank never forgets that God is doing His work through him, and instills that message in all the young players. They are required to come to the hospital, visit the patients on the units, speak to them directly and see the equipment that WCI has donated. Before they can play in the game, they are also required to write a report about their visit.
Wheelchair Charities continues to grow stronger each year. The leading fundraiser for City and State hospitals in the United States, Wheelchair Charities has raised over $20,000,000 since its inception. With the help of an expanding family of sponsors, donors and volunteers over the last 37 years, the aim and reach of WCI has expanded to encompass bettering the lives of not only current but also former paraplegic and quadriplegic patients. Considering that together Hank Carter and WCI have donated over $16 million worth of equipment and an immeasurable amount of time and energy to the Coler-Goldwater Facility, it is nearly impossible to find a wing or a floor of the hospital unmarked by Mr. Carter’s compassion and generosity. In 2004, the New York Health and Hospitals Corporation voted unanimously to rename the Hospital’s Department of Rehabilitative Medicine the Henry “Hank” Carter Rehabilitation Center—making it the first time a living person had such a distinction.
WHEELCHAIR CHARITIES, INC.