This year’s Rampin’ Up! was nothing like the inaugural event two years ago. On the eve of this April 26 biennial wheelchair ramp-building event, multiple tornadoes touched down in eastern North Carolina. Early assessments of the destruction confirmed a total of seven tornadoes had left widespread damage during the April 25 storm. Some winds reached 125 mph.
Within hours after the storm, North Carolina Baptist Men (or Baptists on Mission) disaster relief teams were activated to help with clearing debris – many of these teams were set to be at the homes of ramp recipients early on April 26.
But what appeared to be a deterrent to many receiving needed ramps has turned out to be an exhibition of the commitment of North Carolina Baptists and Baptist Men to be the hands and feet of Jesus serving the frail aging and their neighbors statewide.
Rampin’ Up! is produced by North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM) and N.C. Baptist Men in conjunction with N.C. Operation Inasmuch. The first Rampin’ Up! in 2012 resulted in more than 300 wheelchair ramps built.
A HillSong Baptist Church group works on a ramp in Chapel Hill.
This year as NCBAM began to publicize the event, the ministry was inundated with requests for needed wheelchair ramps – more than 400 requests have been received since Jan. 1.
NCBAM Call Center specialists tackled the arduous task of processing each of the requests. It can take two days to four weeks from receiving an initial request to do research, find funds and put building teams into place.
Requests for wheelchair ramps continued to come in after an April 25 news report by High Point’s Fox 8 urged people needing help to call before May 3. The next morning 29 phone messages left by people who had seen the report were waiting for NCBAM’s Call Center staff.
North Carolina Baptists build more wheelchair ramps than any other religious or nonprofit group in the state. Since its inception in 2009, NCBAM has coordinated the build of nearly 2,000 ramps.
That’s just a portion of all the ramps built statewide because not all Baptist ramp projects are coordinated through NCBAM. Some are coordinated by Baptist Men and others by local churches. Almost every week, somewhere in North Carolina, a Baptist ramp-building team is constructing a wheelchair ramp.
The large number of wheelchair ramp requests and the April 25 storm left a distinctive imprint on this year’s Rampin’ Up! What was to be a one to two weekend event is spreading over multiple weeks and many Saturdays.
The teams involved are determined to meet the needs. Those who have helped with disaster relief have rescheduled their builds and are now adding new builds to accommodate the needs. The total calls attributed to the Fox 8 story resulted in 35 new wheelchair ramp requests the week before the May 3 deadline.
“The mission of NCBAM is to help aging adults keep their independence,” said Sandy Gregory, NCBAM’s director.
“Wheelchair ramps are often the piece of the puzzle that allows them to do just that – to remain independent and safely living in their homes.”
For Marthenia Fearrington of Chapel Hill, her new ramp built by members of HillSong Baptist Church of Chapel Hill brings greater independence. The 83-year-old says being able to safely go outside her house is not only a necessity, but offers her greater peace of mind.
“It’s been difficult getting me in and out of my home,” she said. “I’ve had to wait for help because I couldn’t do it on my own. I’ve fallen several times, and it can make you scared.”
The congestive heart patient can no longer plant flowers in the beds she tended for nearly 38 years. But she says having more opportunities to just sit outside and enjoy the sunshine on warm days will bring her much joy.
“I appreciate getting my wheelchair ramp,” Fearrington said. “I appreciate NCBAM and everyone who built it. I thank them, and I thank God for sending them to help me.”