Fourteen future physical therapists spent the better part of two days in March getting an inside look at what many consider a hidden gem in the area’s medical community resources.

For two days, Chattanooga State students organized, straightened and unpacked hundreds of pieces of equipment in the workshop of the Goodwill program known as HELPs (Health Equipment Links Program services). From hearing aid batteries to wheelchair cushions, they sorted the items to make them easier to find when therapists, clinicians and citizens place orders for durable medical equipment. HELPs equipment is available to both professionals and to “regular” people. All of the equipment is provided at no cost and is thoroughly sanitized and repaired if necessary before given away.

The students said they had heard about the program through Lauren Walsh, a fellow student and a protégé of Clay Evans who co-founded HELPs about 20 years ago. Lauren coordinated the volunteer blitz. Their service helped not only Goodwill, it was also an added bonus to the fledgling therapists, according to Caroline Rogers, Chattanooga State Assistant Professor of the Physical Therapist Assistant’s program.

“It was a great experience for our students and faculty,” she said. It’s important for the students to know available community resources, she noted, and the HELPs workshop with its free crutches, wheelchairs and equipment parts and pieces is a treasure trove for those in the business of rehabilitation. Even Mrs. Rogers had a request for a Hospice patient and, she also took time to “go shopping,” as she described it, in the HELPs aisles for other needs.

Anyone in Goodwill’s 23-county service area can obtain free durable medical equipment. Applications can be downloaded from the website.