For those with trouble getting a step ahead, this group of men provides a way up.
Photo by Richard Eckler
Among First Baptist Church’s ramp building team are (from left) Jim Stevens, Sam Pagett, Asbury Dunn, Robert Whitworth, Kyle Branan and Bill Palmer.
Richard Eckler experienced it himself. Having undergone eight knee surgeries, including two replacements, he knew what it was like having trouble getting around.
However, he healed. In fact, he moves well enough now that he’s helped construct more than 120 accessibility ramps since 2014 for homes in Elbert County, Ga., as part of Elberton First Baptist Church’s ramp building team.
People need the ramps for different reasons. They’ve grown older. They lost a foot to diabetes. They had a life-altering surgery akin to Eckler’s. Whatever the case, a basic set of steps out their front door becomes a danger.
“We’d been building ramps for church members and others for a few years, then the Rotary Club asked if we could take on their requests [for ramps],” Eckler recounted. The number of those needing a ramp grew from there, as individuals and local churches also heard of the ministry.
The ramp building team consists of 16 men, most in their 60s and 70s, with one member in his 80s.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Eckler said. “We pick at each other while building and have a lot of fellowship and camaraderie.”
And even though they’re retired, they keep busy. Thursdays have been designated for their projects. Generally, around 10 members show up.
Photo by Richard Eckler
When smaller ramps such as this one are requested, First Baptist Church’s ramp building team can sometimes build two in one day.
“Our goal is to start at 8 in the morning and finish in time for lunch at Wendy’s,” Eckler laughed.
On the serious side, Eckler, whose 32-year teaching career included 27 at Elbert County High School, said, “It amazes me how there are so many people living on the edge” from what he’s learned through pre-construction visits at a potential work site. His group can’t keep up with the demand; so, while trying to take the requests as they’re received, time and need also factor in. For instance, the beneficiary of one ramp had her completion date moved up because of knee and hip replacement surgery.
“Some just can’t get in and out of the house. They’re held hostage by their own homes,” said Eckler, who teaches a Sunday School class at First Baptist. “It breaks your heart that someone who’s worked hard all their life and paid for their home and property can’t even leave.
“We’ve had instances where people had to crawl from their house to the car. That should not be.”
Ramps are built according to specifications in the American Disability Act and funded largely by donations, like the man who recently gave Eckler a $100 bill when told about the ramp building team. A lady donates an entire dividend check she receives periodically. As one who had received a ramp, she wanted to pay it forward.
Other ramp recipients donate what they can, maybe $10, but it’s not expected of them to do so. Lake Russell Building Supply in Elberton provides a sharp enough discount that basically the company provides the materials for every seventh ramp, Eckler said.
The finished product provides its own witness to others, he added.
“Neighbors will come over and ask how much [the ramp] costs. We’ll say it was free or from donations. We’ve been blessed by the Lord and want to bless others. We’ll hand out Bibles donated by other churches. Donations come in from churches whose members we’ve built ramps for.”
Eckler’s own prior hurdles have helped get the word out. Going through those knee surgeries led to a lot of time with physical therapists. When those same therapists now have a patient needing a ramp, they know whom to suggest. Soon for that patient, the challenge of simply trying to make it through the front door doesn’t loom so large.
“The recipients sometimes cry. They can’t believe how nice the ramps look, especially if we’ve replaced an old ramp that had fallen into disrepair,” Eckler said. “They’re very emotional and appreciative.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is production editor for The Christian Index, christianindex.org, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)