Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Before Saturday, disabled homeowner Burtis Warren stayed mostly indoors because going outside posed a number of challenges for Warren, who gets around using both a walker and a motorized wheelchair.
But thanks to the Texas Ramp Project, a 501(c)(3) corporation based in Richardson, Warren can now “get on my hoopty” and go outside his mobile home whenever he pleases.
“It's a blessing to me,” he said of the 56-foot wooden ramp with rails built by several volunteers Saturday. “It's just wonderful.”
The Cuney residence is the first in the area to have benefitted from TRP, which works with governmental and health agencies to identify those with the greatest needs, most often the elderly and those with mobility issues, said John Laine, TRP executive director.
According to the group's website, TexasRamps.org, TRP has constructed more than 3,428 safe, durable ramps throughout the state since its beginning in 2006, or approximately 17.511 miles – or 92,460 linear feet – of ramps, using elbow grease provided through 127,592 volunteer-hours.
While residents in other areas of the state are familiar with the program, it's new to East Texas.
“We've identified Cherokee, Rusk and Anderson Counties as a service area,” and are working to establish contacts with health care providers and state health and human services offices located here to identify the extent of need for these ramps, Laine said.
“We start at the core – in this case, Cherokee County – and build out,” he said.
By developing a partnership with local churches and civic organization, who provide volunteer muscle, project costs are kept strictly to the cost of the material.
The average cost to place a ramp at a client's residence is $600.
“We never charge a client for one of our ramps,” Laine said. Instead, materials are purchased through funds primarily contributed by foundations and donors, with a fraction of the funding coming from government entities.
And because TRP has construction down to a science – they provide pre-measured wood and share tips with volunteers to streamline the work – the ramps are put together with great efficiency in a small amount of time.
“Our goal is to finish a ramp in 4-5 hours,” said Laine, who added that each project has different needs. “A lot of them, we finish more quickly, but sometimes you get into situation where you're building ramp over steps … you pretty much have to finish the decking (first because) you can't eliminate a person's exit.”
Ideally, the project has a volunteer crew of six to eight people “we can teach, we can train” to work on future projects, Laine said. The project can be done with a smaller number, but this way, “they can work in teams putting up uprights and hand rails, someone else can be working on decking.”
The project in Cuney only drew four volunteers, which participant Jerry Halpain said initially triggered a sense of apprehension in him, “but it really worked well. Mr. Laine was very patient with us, telling us how to put together, tricks to make it go faster.”
Because the crew pre-built the deck modules the day before, Saturday's work was just a matter of getting all the pieces together.
“This is a different way of building a ramp because they've got it pre-measured lengths so you don't have to” deal with measuring and cutting, but instead focus on actual construction, Halpain said. “it's very efficient, and if you could get 10-12 people out on a project, it'd be a real quick project.”
Laine said there was “a very significant need” for ramps, adding that not only are they cost-efficient, they would help people retain their independence a while longer while freeing up tax dollars.
“It costs about $60,000 in state and federal tax dollars for an individual to live a year in a nursing home” and many times, that person is hesitant to give up their independence, he said, pointing out that a $600 ramp can help reconcile both situations if it means giving someone better mobility in and out of their home.
Warren, who has a spinal injury and a “messed up left side,” and his wife – also disabled – have lived in Cuney for about eight months, de-pendent on others to help him go out.
As a result, he stayed mostly inside.
Now, since he's had the deck and ramp in place, “I've been out about maybe four times,” he said.
There's still a matter of making a threshold smoother to cross on his “hoopty,” but Warren says he sees himself going out more because of the new structure.
“It's (made things) more convenient … it is very professional and they did the job right,” he said, encouraging others to utilize this help and thanking the volunteers who put in the ramp. “It's a blessing to me.”
Laine said he perceives a significant need in East Texas for these ramps, and hopes to build up a list of contacts with names of people to help as well as volunteers who can provide that help.
In the meantime, he's working on setting up two projects in Jacksonville and a third in Alto, which volunteers “will attend to immediately,” he said. “In Cherokee County, we could easily build a ramp a month, and could do so forever.”
To volunteer, contact Jerry Halpain at 903-854-4336 or 972-922-9726. To learn more about the Texas Ramp Project, go online to www.texasramps.org.