Volunteers Construct Wheelchair Ramps for People Trapped at Home

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A percentage of people on the First Coast are stuck in their homes. They physically cannot leave. All they need are wheelchair ramps at their homes. But they cannot physically build them and they don’t have the money to build them.

One group which is coming to the rescue needs help themselves. That group is called the Ex-Factor.

On Tuesday, the Ex-Factor along with volunteers from area churches and organizations, helped Jack Halcomb. He’s a U.S. Navy veteran who lives on County Road 208 in St. Johns County. Halcomb has a service-related injury, and he explained, “as a result, my knees have been taking a beating.” He wears knee braces on both legs and walks with a cane. He’s just been told he will need a wheelchair.

For now, walking is tricky, and so are the stairs on the outside of his mobile home. “I’ve had a few incidents where I fell off the stairs,” Halcomb recalled.

So this veteran, who needs a wheelchair soon, is often trapped inside his home.  “I try not to go out if I don’t have to. I pretty much stay at home,” he noted.

That may change after Tuesday. The Ex-Factor and volunteers from Trinity Episcopal in St. Augustine pitched in to build Halcomb a wheelchair ramp. The Sertoma Club paid for it.

Halcomb is one of many in need. There are waiting lists of people who need wheelchair ramps across Northeast Florida. First Coast News has been told there is a waiting list of about 100 people in Duval County who need wheelchair ramps and about 20 are on the list in St. Johns County.

Harold Clemons is part of the Ex-Factor, which he describes as “ex-employees who used to work for the St. Johns Housing Partnership.” Clemons and other “ex-factors” were laid off when government cutbacks hit the St. Johns Housing Partnership. The ex-factors used to get paid to build wheelchair ramps and work on other projects for people who needed help.

However, now, the Ex-Factor does it for free because there are “people really in need. I mean, we’re helping people get in and out of their house,” Clemons explained. Clemons could use this time to job hunt, and it costs him to build the ramps. He pays for his own gas to get from site to site. “I’m always looking for employment. Yes, I ‘m in need of a job,” he added. But he can’t ignore people in need who don’t have the strength or money to build a ramp.

Malea Guiriba from the St. Johns Housing Partnership said there are all kinds of folks on these wheelchair ramp lists. They include the elderly, veterans and people who are newly disabled. There’s even a 30-year-old man who just got one, and now he’ll be able to go to school.

As for Halcomb, he said, “I live on a fixed income. Between what little I get from the VA and from Social Security, it’s barely enough to get by.”  He said there’s no way he could have paid for or built the ramp himself.

The planks of wood and the heartfelt outreach gives Halcolmb something he’s familiar with … freedom. “It provides me a lot of freedom,” Halcomb agreed. “It’s freedom I normally wouldn’t have had.” He fought to give others freedom. Now he’ll have some of it himself because of others who sacrifice as well.

A wheelchair ramp costs about $1,500. People can donate and even volunteer by contacting the St. Johns Housing Partnership at 824-0902.

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