By Jenna O’Donnell
HIGHLANDS – With a big smile, Ann Parker rocked on her wheelchair in the living room of her home and remembered the day a coworker suggested she get in touch with Habitat for Humanity about a ramp.
“It’s the best thing that anyone ever suggested,” she said, gesturing to the wheelchair ramp that extends from her back door. “I’m so happy with that.”
Parker, 68, recently retired after an illness deprived her of her right leg. Her Huddy Avenue home had undergone a full renovation in 2014 while Parker spent two years renting and living with relatives in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy. Despite those trials, Parker is positively gleeful when talking about the ramp installed by Habitat for Humanity at her house last November.
“It’s so much easier for me to get around now,” she said. “And it’s gotten me out of the house. I was a little wary with the steps.”
Using a wheelchair or a walker, Parker can now navigate herself up or down her ramp to go out to her mailbox or head down the street to the water. Hers was the second ramp constructed by volunteers from the Monmouth County chapter of Habitat for Humanity as part of a new Ramps & Rails program that assists low to moderate income homeowners in need of a wheelchair ramp.
“I wasn’t going anywhere,” Parker said, noting that she enjoys getting outside and getting some fresh air and exercise now that she’s able. “I wish others would take advantage of it because it really does improve your life.”
With three ramps completed and four more in the pipeline, Kate Nelson, president of the Monmouth County chapter’s board of directors, said the volunteer organization is always looking for more eligible seniors and disabled homeowners who might qualify. After Sandy, Nelson said Habitat volunteers wanted to continue to find more ways to help.
“We wanted not necessarily to just build homes, but to also help vulnerable people maintain their homes,” Nelson said.
Ramps & Rails arose out of that sentiment, available to homeowners who are senior or disabled, who meet income guidelines and are able to contribute a small portion of the cost. The program is largely funded thanks to the donations of Thrivent Financial, a Christian financial planning group which has allowed Habitat to expand its efforts to help homeowners with minor repairs and projects.
Nelson has shared information about the program at senior centers around Monmouth County, but she said finding eligible homeowners hasn’t been easy.
“That has been the hardest part,” she said. “We are trying to get the word out and find the people who are eligible.”
Typically, homeowners are expected to contribute about 20 percent of the cost of materials. The labor is free and, in this case, up to the task.
Volunteers, many of them from Tower Hill Presbyterian Church, arrived at Parker’s home on a rainy day in November, led by Eric Oberer. a Bell Labs alumnus who installed many wheelchair ramps as a volunteer for AT&T Pioneers. The ramp was completed in a week.
“We had a very good crew,” Parker said. “And it was nice having company here every day.”
Ramps & Rails has been an especially fulfilling program for volunteers, according to Nelson, who said she hopes more people of all ages will get involved. Local chapter volunteers also have had opportunities to travel to Habitat for Humanity projects all over the world to volunteer building homes – while local chapter donations also contribute toward projects both at home and abroad.
“You don’t have to have special skills to volunteer,” Nelson said. “You just have to have a heart and have the time.”
Parker, who had first attempted to install her ramp through insurance, said contractors wouldn’t even look at the project. The Ramps & Rails program and Habitat for Humanity volunteers allowed her to get her wheelchair ramp installed quickly and with little cost. When her ramp was completed last year, Nelson said her suggested contribution was $125.
Instead, Parker handed them a $2,000 check. Upon being reminded of her generous donation, she only smiled and said she hoped other people who needed the help would receive the same kindness she had.
“That’s paying it forward,” she said.
For more information on the program, including information on how to apply, contact Marianne Herring at 732-728-0441 ext. 311 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the Aug. 17-24, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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