Helping Neighbors Get Out Into the World

Binghamton First Ward Action Council Ramp ProjectIf you can't leave your house on your own, then you can't go to work, pick up groceries or escape if the smoke alarm rings. That's the challenge people face when they rely on wheelchairs but don't have ramps on their homes.

Working in the community, members of Binghamton's First Ward Action Council (FWAC) and the Broome County Council of Churches (BC3) both have discovered a tremendous need for wheelchair ramps. "We've run into situations where people are more or less stuck in their homes, not able to get out unless somebody carries them down the stairs," says Jerry Willard, FWAC's executive director.

In 2009 the two organizations joined forces to address that problem. BC3 used its ties to local organizations and congregations to recruit youth and adult volunteers to build ramps on thirteen homes. FWAC contributed funds, including a $9,000 grant it received for the project from the Community Foundation.

FWAC also lent BC3 some of its considerable expertise in home repair and modification. "We talked to them in the beginning about problems they might run across, hoping we could help them to avoid some of the problems we've had to work through in the past," Willard says.

Staff from Home Depot trained one adult mentor for each team, sharing advice on how to work safely and build the ramps correctly. In all, 111 youths and 77 adults took part.

Some of those teams made a big impression. Take, for example, the group that helped a mother and son who both needed a ramp. After they'd finished construction, the volunteers came back to help clean the house and cook dinner. Their spirit of giving was infectious, says Greg Jenkins, a program director with BC3. "The mother now volunteers with the Council of Churches' Faith in Action program."

The ramps brought new freedom to recipients, including a man who hadn't left home under his own steam in two years. "Now he tools around his neighborhood on his scooter, and he's able to get down to his workshop in the basement," Jenkins says.

The young volunteers formed valuable bonds with their adult team members and with the people they helped, Jenkins says. And rather than travel long distances to do volunteer work, they gained a chance to make a difference in their own back yard.

That experience hammered home a vital lesson. "There's mission right outside your door," Jenkins says. "Just open your door and walk out, and there it is."

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