ELBERTON — For those with trouble getting a step ahead, this group of men provides a way up.
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 since 2014 he’s helped construct around 123 accessibility ramps for homes in Elbert County 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 explains. 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 but with one member in his 80s. “It’s a lot of fun,” Eckler admits. “We pick at each other while building and have a lot of fellowship and comradery.”
And even though they’re retired, they keep busy. Thursdays have been designated as when they meet for another project. ]Generally, around ten members show up.
“Our goal is to start at eight in the morning and finish in time for lunch at Wendy’s,” laughs Eckler.
Assess the situation, make a plan, carry it out
Over a 32-year teaching career – 27 of them at Elbert County High – Eckler learned to take a group of individuals, whether students or athletes, and guide them to a new understanding. It could’ve been a concept in world history or how to run the pick-and-roll. He assessed where the student or athlete was and drew up a plan to get them where they needed to be. Then, he executed the plan.
“It amazes me how there are so many people living on the edge,” says Eckler on something he’s learned through the pre-construction visits at a potential work site. His group can’t keep up with the demand, and so while trying to take the requests as they’re presented, time and need also factor in. For instance, the beneficiary of one ramp had her completion date moved up because of a March 13 knee and hip replacement.
“Some just can’t get in and out of the house. They’re held hostage by their own homes,” explains 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’d wanted to pay it forward.
Other 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, attests Eckler.
The finished product provides its own witness to others, he adds.
“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.”
And now, Eckler’s own prior hurdles have gotten 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 who 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 says. “They’re very emotional and appreciative.”