Ramp It Up: Volunteers Make Homes Accessible
United Methodist ramp-building ministries are making a difference in the lives of many people in Western Pennsylvania – helping some gain accessibility to their homes, and giving volunteers the opportunity to share God’s love.
Ramps of Grace, launched by Washington District Volunteers in Mission Coordinator Rosella Ealy, is a relatively new ministry. But the effort has already been noticed.
The Washington County Commissioners presented a certificate of appreciation to Ealy for helping disabled veterans and others to continue to live in their homes despite disabilities. The first ramp they constructed was for a 92-year-old World War II vet and his wife of 66 years.
"This ministry is meant to reach out to those who are in need physically and financially," Ealy told a reporter for the Washington Observer-Reporter newspaper. "They do not have to be a member of the United Methodist Church to receive a ramp. This mission is designed to increase the person's quality of life by helping them access their home, go to appointments and attend family outings."
Ramp modules are built and stored in Ealy's basement. Volunteers install ramps on Saturday mornings and they have a growing list of about 10 who are awaiting ramps. Materials run about $800 and so far have been paid for by church or private donations. Ealy hopes to secure grants to help finance future ramps.
Some ramp ministries, like Ramps R Us, coordinated by the Rev. Barry Ritenour in the Connellsville District, have been operating for many years. Others, like Ramps of Hope, led by the Rev. Debbie Hills in the Erie-Meadville District, are newer, but growing and already providing training and inspiration for other ramp ministries.
Ramps of Hope’s growing crew of volunteers had been building about three ramps a month, but "ramped it up" during the summer. They seem to have process down to a science. On May 4, they celebrated completion of their 40th ramp. Hills reported that they loaded the trailer at 4 p.m., were at the home and working by 4:30, and were taking pictures of the finished ramp by 7p.m.
On August 2, they finished their third ramp in one week, with help of confirmation class youth from McKean UMC and several new volunteers. On that evening, women from Franklin Center and McKean UMCs provided a meal for the workers, who started at 5 p.m. and finished by 8 p.m.
Hills has received grants, as well as gifts from local churches and from some recipients, to fund the ministry. Both she and the Rev. Nelson Thayer, director of the Eastbrook Mission Barn, have helped train and mentor others, such as Ealy, to lead ramp ministries.
Doug Hilliard of Indiana District is one of those who received mentoring. His volunteers built three ramps in 2011 and have already surpassed that total this year. Funding comes from the Indiana District and ramp recipients.
Most of the ramp ministries use plans developed by Northeastern Jurisdiction Volunteers in Mission Coordinator Greg Forrester, with drawings by Lee Mount, to build ramp and platform modules that can be transported to sites and then assembled. Forrester has provided training in building the modules at the Cooperative School of Christian Mission and the plans are available on the NEJ VIM website. A building owned by a volunteer is used in the Erie-Meadville area. Ealy and her volunteers create and store modules at her West Alexander home.
Modules are frequently stored at the Eastbrook Mission Barn, a regional UMCOR depot, where Thayer oversees ongoing building and training. Each July, the Mission Barn hosts youth teams from the School of Mission to build ramps, which they later install.
Funding for most of those ramps comes from grants and through a new partnership with Lawrence Country LIFE (Living Independence for the Elderly) run by the Lutheran Church. LIFE Lawrence County is an innovative alternative to nursing home care which helps eligible older adults who are living at home by managing their complex medical, functional and social needs.
In building the ramps, volunteers often uncover other needs. Ritenour’s group and a group from the churches of JUMP in Johnstown also do home repairs.
On a winter visit to a man who needed a ramp for his mobile home, Ritenour, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church, saw another need illustrated. The man was wearing a wool coat indoors and was wrapped in a wool blanket. The thermostat was set at 50 degrees, he told a reporter for the Somerset Daily American. When the man offered Ritenour a cup of coffee and opened his refrigerator, it contained only coffee and gallon of water. In his cupboard was a box of ramen noodles. The woman who usually brought him groceries was in the hospital. Ritenour also told the story of woman who needed food and lived near a food pantry, but was unable to get there.
“This is a real problem in Somerset County,” he said. “We need more avenues to get food to the food pantries, to determine if more food pantries are needed and deal with the transportation issue of getting people to the food pantries?” He has since researched hunger in Somerset County and, working with the Somerset Ministerium and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, launched Produce to People. He’s currently seeking funding for refrigerated trailer to serve as a “mobile food bank” to get healthy food to people.