Ramp projects uplift both partner families and volunteers in multiple ways

Ramp projects uplift both partner families and volunteers in multiple ways

To an onlooker, it may seem like an ordinary triangle — albeit acute one. To a skilled construction worker or architect, it may seem like the simplest of projects.

But to someone who is confined to a wheelchair or a person whose ability to walk has been hindered by an injury or illness, a ramp is a blessing that provides safe mobility and an opportunity to stay safely in a home that they love.

Marlene Kaiser

That was the case recently for 88-year-old Marlene Kaiser, whose life of service has included working with disabled veterans, the developmentally disabled and Habitat for Humanity as well as housing the homeless and teaching English to immigrant children. She was in danger of losing her insurance before The Fuller Center for Housing of Utah County and local 3D construction design company Baxter BIM joined forces to build her a brand new deck and wheelchair ramp.

“I’m thrilled to death,” Kaiser said. “You’ve drastically improved my home. This project will not only help me stay insured — it will make my insurance cheaper! It’s so much more than I ever expected!”

Reactions like that are common for Fuller Center covenant partners who undertake these kinds of projects. Tom Tebo, director of the River Cities Fuller Center for Housing in Marinette, Wis., saw that first-hand last week when they put in a ramp for an elderly woman who could only get down her steps by clinging to her son’s back after her daughter had become unable to safely get her mother’s wheelchair down the steps.

“She was in tears,” Tebo said of the homeowner. “It’s a joyous occasion when we give them that mobility and freedom. They are very grateful for it.”

ramp river cities
A River Cities Fuller Center for Housing ramp project

River Cities has made the construction of these ramps a priority, especially in 2022.

“In our community, new construction isn’t always the key,” Tebo said. “Keeping families in their homes or remodeling properties is more of a model that we’ll be successful with. And with wheelchair ramps, there’s a lot of need. There were a lot of agencies that wanted to help this aging population, and one of the best ways to do that was to help keep them in their homes. There was a need in our community, and other agencies communicated that to us. And we just became pretty good at it.”

“Before the ramps, our projects were doors, windows, painting the homes and small project stuff,” he added. “That was all great and we still do those projects, but the wheelchair ramp projects are able to get an individual out of the nursing home, out of the care center, out of the rehab center and back in their properties where they often do better. It gives them the independence to be in their own home and not have that hindrance.

The ramp projects also have strengthened their relationships with other agencies in the community — as well as with a couple of local high schools, one of whom had its Advanced Woods class pre-assemble much of the ramp in advance so that it could be placed in sections instead of piece by piece. It was the latest in a series of connections between their projects and high-schoolers, helping them promote volunteerism and cultivate better citizens.

“You kind of develop this community-mindedness in the kids, and they get buy-in,” Tebo said. “When they go to the build site, they get to see the family reap the benefits of their hard work.

“Anything that gets our youth involved in community service is such a good thing.”

Rick Kuhn (kneeling, right) and the RampBuilders at a recent project. RampBuilders is a service group of volunteers from Church of the Highlands that Kuhn leads.

Retired podiatrist Dr. Rick Kuhn leads the RampBuilders, a group of volunteers from Church of the Highlands that has built more than 70 ramps in recent years, including 15 this year. Several of those projects have been in conjunction with the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project. Kuhn was one of the leaders on two senior homes the CFCP built in the spring and the two new CFCP homes built during last month’s Millard Fuller Legacy Build in Lanett, Ala.

He has been helping people as long as he can remember, although he says a lot of his charitable efforts were to offset some of the chaos wrought by one particular “snot” in his hometown.

“I always thought of myself being a little mischievous, but in retrospect I know I was just a little rotten snot,” Kuhn recalled with a laugh. “Nonetheless, there were times I would clean somebody’s driveway or sidewalk. But I’d be just as likely to knock somebody’s window out with a slingshot.”

It was a bumpy learning process on his way to being saved.

“I remember telling a Sunday school class: You never know the heights of the Lord’s love until you know the depths of the depravity of your own heart,” he said.

He has long since traded in his slingshot for saws, drills and hammers. Under his leadership, the RampBuilders have become a well-oiled machine that has learned all the tricks of the trade since they first built a ramp for a friend’s father back in 2008.

“It would not be ADA-compliant, but it worked,” he said, noting that the ramps they build now exceed ADA standards.

The RampBuilders group is quite a bit different from one of his earlier group projects with a church — helping to run “the scariest” haunted hayride to raise money.

“Every church needs at least one thing that everybody buys into,” he said.

Fellow Church of the Highlands members and other friends have certainly bought into the RampBuilders’ mission, and it opens more doors for them to spread the Gospel — and it literally opens the doors for those wanting to worship.

“From a spiritual viewpoint, you can’t go to church if you’re afraid to go down your stairs,” he said.

From left: Warren Johnson, David (homeowner with ALS), Keith Moore, Jeff Moore and Chris Johnson
From left: Warren Johnson, David (homeowner with ALS), Keith Moore, Jeff Moore and Chris Johnson

Fuller Center Vice President of Communications Chris Johnson said that one of the best things about building ramps is that you can make a huge difference in someone’s life, and you don’t have to have an entire team of construction experts to get the job done. You just need a little bit of leadership and some willing hands.”

He recently joined his father, Warren Johnson, and two cousins, Keith Moore and Jeff Moore, to build a ramp for a Vietnam veteran who suffers from ALS and who has trouble navigating stairs. He knows that it will not be long before he will need a wheelchair.

“A project like this, that can be done in a day, can be a valuable bonding experience,” Chris said. “We’re family, but the four guys who came together to get that ramp built could not be much more different, especially when it comes to such things as politics. But we do share some values — such as the importance of helping those in need — and it was a refreshing day to have a positive focus and common goal. I think that kind of bonding experience could help any group.”

While this was not a Fuller Center project, Warren Johnson has Fuller Center experience, having once led a covenant partner in Perry, Ga., that completed 50 Greater Blessing projects in four years — including ramps. He also had experience with Habitat for Humanity and was a house captain at the 20/20,000 and 30/30,000 Builds in Americus, Ga. As Chris explains, his father had once intended to become a preacher before his car hit a cow in the road while he was driving to deliver a trial sermon at a church. After that, he became a home builder through the 1970s.

“He was a preacher at one point, and I didn’t like going to church as a child,” Chris said. “Then he built houses, and I hated working on those even more. So, of course, I wind up with a career in a Christian ministry that builds houses. God definitely has a sense of humor!”

He suggests that each Fuller Center covenant partner and church consider ramp projects because they make a tremendous difference in a nation with an aging population and can be done in a matter of hours with the right leadership and a little bit of volunteer labor.

“It really is something positive that just about anybody can do,” Chris said. “I think we were done in about five hours. Then again, if I hadn’t helped, it might have gotten done in four hours.”

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