James lives near the end of a quiet lane in Armstrong and uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. One day, as he was coming out of his rented home, he came down the ramp and his chair toppled over, leaving James lying in the dirt yard for hours, until someone finally heard his cries. His ramp was a piece of plywood set atop two cinder blocks.
James told his story to Mary Groves, who delivers food to homebound residents and then Mary set out to make sure James never fell off a ramp again. She contacted Council on Aging who referred James to the St. Johns Housing Partnership, where a list was growing day by day for folks in similar situations.
The Twelve Days of Christmas took on a whole new meaning, when SJHP began looking at the whole picture .There were twelve all together, in Hastings, Flagler Estates, West Augustine, The Shores and they all had an immediate need for a wheelchair so they could safely exit and enter their homes.
It was that time of the year, the holidays, people are busy, travelling, wrapping up the year. It seemed an impossible task. Still, the funding was there for the purchase of materials, COA solved most of that issue, but the looming problem was manpower, volunteers to do the labor. And it was a commodity that was in short supply.
That is until Lisa Drudi, a SJHP employee put out the call for help. “Listen” she said, in her own rather direct way of speaking, “we have a lot of folks here who need these ramps to keep them safe and we have got to get them done.”
And get them done, she did. Rounding up groups of six or eight volunteers for each ramp, realtors, firemen, insurance agents, contractors, church groups, even a high school Frisbee team and anyone else who could hold a hammer or learn to in one day, Lisa recruited them. And one by one, each name on that list had a date and a crew. It was just the beginning.
Beginning in the second week of December, SJHP staffers hit the ground running. They were measuring and drawing, ordering materials and prepping ramps all over town. When the dust finally settled, twelve ramps had been competed in less than three weeks and twelve men, women and children had the best Christmas gift of all, thanks to the volunteers who gave the greatest gift of all; their time.
“I think we set a record,” said SJHP Director Bill Lazar. “This was truly a community effort and it shows just how much people do care and that they are willing to give their time to help improve the life of someone else. It’s inspiring.”
Lazar said he was proud of his skilled staff who worked with the volunteers.
“It isn’t always easy training folks to use power tools and such if they are not familiar with their usage. But our staff is patient and understands the value of those volunteers in getting these jobs completed. They did a great job!”
And Lisa, who started the ball rolling, was a tired but happy woman when she checked the last name off her list. She worked diligently to coordinate the jobs to fit with the schedules of the volunteers and visited each site bringing lunch to the crews of every job.
The twelve ramps of Christmas was the result of more than 800 volunteer hours.
At the end of the day, Lazar said, “Everyone worked together, staff, volunteers and funders to make this happen. I guess this was our version of a Christmas miracle.”
Volunteer Groups who participated in building wheelchair ramps in December:
- Nease High School Frisbee Club
- Trinity Church Ramp Squad
- Northeast Florida Association of Realtors
- Christ Episcopal Church, Ponte Vedra
- St. Johns County Fire Rescue
You can make a difference in someone’s life today! Click here to learn how you can get involved with SJHP by giving time, talent or money.