Toyota partners with Texas Ramp Project to build wheel chair ramps throughout Texas for elderly people in need.
How the Texas Ramp Project is helping elderly and disabled Texans take back their mobility, one ramp at a time
by David Buice, Special Contributor | December 18, 2019
Many of today’s aging Americans are choosing to stay in their homes as long as possible, a choice known as “aging in place.” It can be crucial in helping older Americans feel happy, comfortable and secure as they as they age.
But, for some, the very home they love can feel like a prison, due to the front steps required for entry. For aging individuals who suffer from serious disabilities or health problems that affect their mobility, those three or four steps can be difficult or impossible to navigate. This limited mobility can isolate the resident from the outside world, creating feelings of hopelessness and despair.
This was the case for Irving resident Sherrie Howard. She lives with rheumatoid arthritis and has difficulty breathing due to COPD. This combination makes navigating her own front porch steps virtually impossible. The challenge of maneuvering a walker and oxygen tank down those steps without assistance resulted in home confinement for Sherrie, forcing her to miss medical appointments and leaving her with no choice but to neglect other daily responsibilities.
Thankfully for Howard, the nonprofit Texas Ramp Project (TRP) stepped in to help. The Texas Ramp Project’s mission is to ensure that no homebound person in Texas goes without an access ramp for their home because they cannot afford it. The group leverages a network of volunteers and local organizations throughout the state to build wheelchair ramps free of charge for the elderly, disabled and economically disadvantaged.
Early on a recent Saturday morning, TRP volunteers came to Howard’s home to construct an ADA-compliant wooden ramp, which gives her safe access in and out of the house. Howard can now confidently and independently leave her home.
The Texas Ramp Project began in 1985, when the Richardson Kiwanis Club received a request to build an access ramp for one of its members. Although they’d never built a ramp before, the club members agreed to take on the project, rolled up their sleeves and got it done.
After completing this first ramp, they began to receive more ramp requests from the community. To provide this sorely needed assistance, a small group of Richardson volunteers established the Dallas Ramp Project and, with the help of donations and volunteers, proceeded to build free ramps for homebound people in the Dallas area.
In 2006, the group became the Texas Ramp Project, and with the support of churches, civic-minded groups and hundreds of volunteers, it has gradually expanded its ramp-building activities throughout much of Texas.
With support from its local affiliates and volunteers, TRP has constructed almost 18,000 ramps throughout the state since 2006. That work represents a total of over 523,000 volunteer labor hours.
Getting the job done
Homebound individuals do not apply directly to the Texas Ramp Project for assistance. Instead, potential ramp recipients are referred to the organization by local healthcare professionals without regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity or religion. In addition, there is no charge to the recipient, or expectation of payment, although they may donate to the organization to continue the ramp-building work if able.
These ADA-compliant ramps are also providing critical relief for caregivers, who are often elderly spouses. Because of these ramps, clients can remain in their homes – where they want to be.
A critical player in the growth of TRP is Executive Director John Laine. After TRP’s founding, he saw an opportunity to extend the work of the organization throughout the state and made an all-in commitment. Laine closed his business and devoted all his time and energy to building and expanding TRP.
“At some point in your life, you think, ‘I’ve got X amount of time in my life left. If there’s time to do it, now’s the time, so I’m going to do it now,’” Laine says.
Thanks to the efforts of Laine and his associates, Texas Ramp Project has extended into one-third of Texas counties, working with 36 local affiliates. As TRP board member Gary Stopani notes, you can find the organization just about anywhere in Texas “except those places where cows outnumber the people.”
According to Stopani, TRP – Dallas Region constructs about 30 ramps a month, and at any given time there are 125-130 people waiting for a ramp. The total time from referral to the completion of a ramp is three to four months.
A new ramp by noon
Over the years, TRP volunteer craftsmen have designed three basic ramp modules suitable to most needs, which reduces construction time by up to two hours. The volunteers arrive at the home construction site early on a Saturday and take no breaks until the work is completed around noon.
Each ADA-compliant ramp can be used immediately. And the volunteer feedback is resounding – there’s nothing quite like witnessing the expression of joy and gratitude on a recipient’s face once their ramp is completed and they have regained a measure of their freedom.
“It’s rewarding,” says Mike Buettner, a volunteer from First United Methodist Church of Sachse, a TRP affiliate. “We do a group picture with the family, and I love seeing the joy on their faces because they’ve been locked in and not able to get out easily.”
An ongoing need
Although TRP has made huge strides since those first ramp projects in 1985, recent statistics indicate that need for ramps in Texas households will only continue to grow. According to 2017 census estimates, nearly 3.4 million (12.3 percent) of the state’s 28.3 million people are 65 or older. Of this group, 24.4 percent have an ambulatory disability, and 813,000 people ages 5 to 64 have a similar disability. Texas’ 14.7 percent poverty rate only complicates these problems.
These numbers show that many Texans still need safe access to and from their homes, but they often lack the financial means. And the situation will undoubtedly grow worse as the population ages and government assistance programs are curtailed. Medicare patients, for example, can secure walkers and wheelchairs when they need them, but the program does not provide ramps for the elderly and disabled.
Toyota pitches in
To meet current and future needs, the Texas Ramp Project requires widespread volunteer and organizational support, and Toyota is one of the local organizations that has made an ongoing commitment to the cause.
Toyota’s employee resource group ToyotAbility, which educates employees on the community of people with visible, non-visible special abilities and elder care, and volunteers with nonprofits to help build inclusion, discovered that the Texas Ramp Project’s work dovetailed perfectly with Toyota’s mission of providing mobility for all.
“People want to be as independent as they can for as long as they can,” says Wendy Couture, the Toyota employee who launched the Texas chapter of ToyotAbility. “Ramps give them freedom to come and go and be what they were, not what they have become. They’re now not just physically free, but mentally free as well.”
Toyota volunteers work to build ramps on the first Saturday of the month from September through May. Typically, 15 or more Toyota volunteers will split into two teams, each building a ramp. This work often turns into a family outing, as Toyota employees bring spouses and older children along (volunteers must be at least 16) to assist.
To date, 60 Toyota employees and family members have contributed 213 volunteer hours and constructed five ramps in support of TRP in 2019.
If you’re interested in helping the Texas Ramp Project, Stopani says that the organization’s greatest need is volunteers — especially those with construction experience. But you don’t have to be a skilled craftsman to participate. TRP welcomes all volunteers.
To learn more about the Texas Ramp Project, or to volunteer or make a donation, visit them online at texasramps.org.
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