Thursday, September 16, 2010

Florida church builds wheelchair ramps for those in need

From the Pensacola News Journal:

The average person doesn't think twice about coming and going from their own home. For the handicapped, however, it can be a major undertaking especially if their home isn't equipped for special needs access.

One local church has been hard at work brightening the lives of the handicapped by providing wheelchair ramps created by caring parishioners and other community volunteers. Although the ministry is not new, the word is spreading, additional people are being helped, and the ministry is seeking the support of others to grow the effort.

"The ministry began in the early 90s," volunteer project director Stan Holmes said. "A great servant of God, Mr. Jimmy Ray, was driving his wife and saw a man in a wheelchair struggling to get into his house. Jimmy decided he needed to help him and others like him. He started building ramps with his wife and daughter. He was attending Woodbine United Methodist in Pace so he organized the ministry there.

Another recipient told Mr. Ray that if he had an emergency and needed to get out of his house, he would just have to roll himself to the door and fall into the yard."
Ray ran the ministry on the job sites, first working and then supervising until his poor health prevented him from getting there and he passed away the end of February. That's when Holmes stepped in.

The ministry is managed by the Woodbine Outreach Riding Disciples (W.O.R.D.), the motorcycle outreach ministry at the church. They are assisted by volunteers such as military personnel from Whiting Field Naval Air Station, AmeriCorps and Department of Juvenile Justice kids and have even teamed up with neighboring Woodbine Baptist on several projects.

"Our volunteers are wonderful," Holmes said. "They give up their time and buy their own gas to get to the sites. Although we currently don't have any business sponsors, we are thankful to work closely with Pittman's Cash and Carry. Milton Kiwanis is helping as well."

Ray of Hope is becoming well known throughout the Gulf Coast and providing ramps for those in need in Defuniak Springs, Walnut Hill, Jay, Flomaton, Century and countless numbers in Pensacola, Pace and Milton. To date 275 ramps have been built and there are eight to 10 on the waiting list. Some preliminary framing is done at the church but 90 percent of the work is done in one day on site.

Teresa and Ira Johnson of Milton are some of many thankful recipients.

"For the first time in a long time with the help from God's people "» life is different for both of us," Teresa Johnson said. This ramp is not just wood to us, it's a blessing given to us to use."

The ministry receives referrals from various organizations such as Goodwill Easter Seals, local social service agencies, home health care and others. With such a demand the team does its best to manage the waiting list and run it on a "need" basis.

"There are so many people in need," Holmes said. "I could share many stories with you. I got a call about a woman who just got home after a double amputation. She had a dialysis appointment the next day. When I asked how she was going to get out, she had no idea. I went out to do a site survey and help her out of the house. She'll have her ramp within the week."

Another heartwarming story is that of 7-year-old Marshall Hardy of Pace (pictured).

"My grandson suffers from Cerebral Palsy," grandmother Dee Rush said. "Before receiving this ramp they had no way of getting him in and out of the house safely. It was so amazing to have this ramp built for him. He was grinning from ear to ear when he came home and saw it. He had to get on it immediately with his electric wheelchair. It gives him so much more independence."

Ray of Hope ministry says they are fortunate that they've never had to tell anyone "no, we can't afford your ramp." They give God the credit in always providing a way and blessing both the recipient and the givers.

"Seeing the look on a person's face when, for the first time, they can easily, safely get out of their house without any help is an incredible experience," Holmes said. "A lot of these folks just want to be able to go outside and sit in the shade and enjoy their yard. It gives them a great sense of independence, not to mention the fact that most of these folks are under medical care and getting to and from appointments is much easier now."

Ray of Hope has two goals: for the ministry to become self-funded and to expand its labor pool. Contributions are tax deductible and are appreciated. To learn more about this amazing ministry visit its website at ray-of-hope.