By Amy Ellis
Nail guns thundered as sawdust and laughter rained down. Although some would say it was an ideal Saturday for fishing in Pitt County, this storm of about sixty volunteers, mostly retired men, would disagree. They chose instead to dig holes and tote two-by-fours to help six area families access the outside world.
Their efforts were part of a one-day, statewide, wheelchair-ramp-building blitz called “Rampin’ Up.”
Spearheaded by North Carolina Baptists in conjunction with the nondenominational nonprofit Operation Inasmuch, the April 28 event was held to generate awareness and help meet the growing need for wheelchair ramps in North Carolina. According to North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministries (NCBAM), wheelchair ramps continue to top the list of frail-aging needs in our state.
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Dennis Streets, director for the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services, noted that by 2025, 85 of the state’s 100 counties are projected to have more people age 60 and older than 17 and younger. “Without a doubt, most people want to remain in their own home as they age,” he said.
“This can become challenging, if not impossible, for those with physical impairments in homes that have outside steps,” Streets said. “One simple, but vital, way to accommodate this barrier is through the construction of a ramp. We depend on groups such as the NCBAM and their volunteers to assist with home improvements, repairs and other modifications.”
Big need, big response
Greenville resident Sherrie Moore said the ramp built for her family during the blitz is “a gift straight from God.” Moore is the live-in caregiver for her 79-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia and severe arthritis. She had been relying on male neighbors and family members to carry her mother in and out of the house every time she had a doctor’s appointment.
“I couldn’t afford a ramp,” she said. “And I felt like I had exhausted all the resources I knew about. Every place I called had a long waiting list.”
Approximately 75 families are on waiting lists throughout Pitt County alone, according to Rampin’ Up volunteer Gail Joyner of Farmville. She and husband Bobby have volunteered for years on various construction projects through Grifton Missions Ministries and Oakmont Baptist Church. They’ve seen an ever-increasing need for ramps, she says, and although larger projects have become tougher for them to handle as they’ve aged, ramp-building is quite manageable.
“Our state will have to depend on volunteers to keep up with the growing demand for ramps,” Joyner said. “But we’re the ones who are blessed. This is a fun time of fellowship for us. We forget about our own aches and pains when we get out here and get to working.”
With obvious emotion, her husband recounted the time he helped build a ramp for a lady who hadn’t been out of her house in six months, and the smile on her face when she first came outside.
Winterville ramp recipient Robert Williams used to build things himself, in between serving in Vietnam and suffering two debilitating strokes. He struggled to communicate the special appreciation he has for his ramp because of his carpentry background.
“This ramp allows Daddy to keep living at home,” said daughter Mickie. She said an occasional trip to Bojangles, made possible by the ramp, should buoy his spirits until he can return to his favorite pastime, fishing.
Volunteer Ray Kornegay, of Winterville Baptist Church, hopes the Rampin’ Up event will make people feel loved and aware that help is available. “If people can’t get access to the world, they’re basically locked up in a prison,” he said. “There’s a lot of need, and one person can’t help everybody. But you can help one. You can do something. If you can’t build, you can offer a kind word. And you get personal satisfaction from fulfilling Jesus’s request to serve the ‘least of these.’”
Jim Naves, a volunteer from Oakmont Baptist, agreed. “This one-day blitz will help, but it doesn’t solve the problem long-term,” he said. “One person volunteering their time once a week or once a month – multiplied by lots of people – that makes a big difference.”
Not just elderly need ramps
Volunteer Scott Bradley of Oakmont Baptist, helped to install a ramp for a double amputee. Bradley said he was moved to volunteer after recently watching a handicapped girl being carried in a woman’s arms from her school bus into her house because there was no ramp. “It broke my heart,” he said.
Greenville ramp recipient Cassandra Daniley opened the door of her trailer with tears streaming down her face. She was working as a nursing assistant when a back injury left her disabled in 2010. Ever since then, a few rickety steps have separated her from the fresh air and fellowship she used to enjoy. Today a 55-foot wheelchair ramp stands in their place.
“I can’t do anything today but thank God,” she said. “I enjoy being outside, sitting in the yard, talking with my neighbors. It makes me feel connected.”
Although Daniley has a long, painful road ahead, she said she was overwhelmed with happiness on Saturday. Watching the Rampin’ Up volunteers outside her window, she shook her head in amazement. “Every one of them has a special job they do for the team,” she observed. “And every one of them has their heart in it.”
She named five neighbors in view of her trailer who also need ramps.
Most of the ramps installed across Pitt County on April 28 were prebuilt in portable sections prior to the event. All were funded by six area churches. According to Tom Reese, Pitt County coordinator for Rampin’ Up, supply costs range from $800-$1200 per ramp. In the absence of volunteers, labor can run between $1000 and $1500 for a typical job. He said five people can prebuild an average ramp in one day, and it takes about 60-70 man-hours to install one. Volunteer groups from organizations like Winterville Baptist Church and Grifton Missions Ministries work year-round to fund and build ramps for the indigent in the Pitt County area.
Before sunset on April 28, Pitt County volunteers had six completed ramps under their tool belts, which was double the Rampin’ Up goal for Pitt County. Although the final tally wasn’t in at the time of publication, Rampin’ Up organizers were hopeful the number built statewide would approach the 300 mark – three in every North Carolina county.
“As our population ages, we must continue our efforts to work together to assist older adults and persons with disabilities in their efforts to remain at home,” said Streets. “Rampin’ Up is a perfect example of how collectively we can make a major difference in people’s lives.”
Update, May 7: Gaylon Moss from NC Baptist Aging Ministries, 106 churches recorded activity on the ramp building day. 159 ramps total were built and/ or installed on April 28. Moss said more than 300 ramps were committed to before the Rampin’ Up day, and he believes many more ramps were built, but not reported to him yet.
All photos by Amy Ellis