Mohan Sudabattula was 10 years old when his parents took him on a trip from their home in Utah to their family’s ancestral village in India in 2006.
Along with visiting family and historic landmarks, Sudabattula’s mother took him to an orphanage and school for disabled children. She thought it was important for him to see it.
Sudabattula, now 23, vividly remembers that some of the children were missing limbs, and used old lawn chairs with bicycle tires attached as wheelchairs.
“But most of them were still laughing and smiling and happy to meet us,” said Sudabattula, who was born in the United States.
After returning home to West Jordan, Utah, where his parents had immigrated three decades ago, Sudabattula often thought about the cheerful children in those lawn chairs.
“It always stayed with me — they didn’t even have a proper wheelchair,” he said.
So in 2016, when he came up with an idea to help people in wheelchairs — not only poor people in India, but those in his own suburban hometown — he went all in.
“I knew that something as simple as a pair of crutches would change a person’s life,” he said.
After doing some research, Sudabattula created Project Embrace from his dorm room — a nonprofit that collects gently used wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, slings, orthotic shoes and braces and redistributes them to disabled children and adults who can’t afford them.
Since July 2017, he estimates that Project Embrace has collected, cleaned and given away about 500 pieces of used mobility equipment to low-income people in Utah and to organizations that help the disabled in India and Swaziland.
The nonprofit now operates out of a free storage unit in Salt Lake County and donated office space at the University of Utah.