ARISE works to provide freedom to homebound

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Front steps come in many sizes and materials, such as brick, concrete, or wood, but even one step into the entrance of a home can serve as a serious barrier to a person with limited mobility.

While many homeowners look to design a front entrance in a way that’s pleasing to the eye, others are simply wishing they could navigate into and out of their home freely, without facing the challenge of getting a wheelchair down a set of stairs. Recognizing this need is what prompted a group of dedicated volunteers to take action, and has led to a successful countywide program through ARISE.

Scott Pecoy, housing advocate and ramp coordinator with Oswego County ARISE, said the idea of building ramps for those in need started at the First United Methodist Church of Oswego when parishioners were looking to boost the congregation’s community involvement.

“In the early 2000s we started the program as outreach for church,” said Pecoy. “We were specifically looking for something to get more men involved with the church.”

He explained the idea of a physical project involving carpentry and building appealed to many of the men in the congregation, so when they recognized a neighbor in need the team of volunteers was ready to take action.

“We had an elderly person at church who needed a ramp,” Pecoy recalled. “That first project then turned into a ministry at the church.”

Originally there were just three teams of volunteers from the First United Methodist Church, and the groups rotated each weekend to install ramps throughout the community. But as the ministry continued to grow, Pecoy realized they needed greater assistance to make the program available for more residents. The group decided to reach out to Oswego County ARISE, which took over the outreach and scheduling beginning in 2008.

Even though ARISE now manages the Oswego County Ramp Program, Pecoy said the initiative is still completely reliant on volunteers.

“There’s no funding for this program,” he said. “It’s all run on donations.”

Due to the tight operating budget of the program, gaining support from local businesses has been vital.

Pecoy said one business that has been continuously supportive is Raby’s Ace Home Center in Oswego, which sells all of the lumber for ramps at cost, meaning the store does not make a profit off the sales.

“Raby’s also delivers the lumber to the build sites for a $5 charge anywhere in the county,” said Pecoy, explaining the price is a great deal considering they have built ramps in every corner of the county.

Another group that has been supporting the ramp program for several years is the Oswego Elks Lodge 271, which installed another wooden ramp just last week in the city of Oswego.

“This is the fourth or fifth year we’ve been doing this for ARISE,” said Jim Oldenburg, past exalted ruler of the lodge.

He explained the Elks’ support involves both the manual labor of cutting wooden beams to size and installing the ramp sections at the proper angle, as well as providing funding support for the program. Oldenburg said each year the lodge has applied for and received a $2,000 grant, which they choose to spend on materials for the ramps.

While the Elks members knew the program was worthy from the start, Past District Deputy David Longley said they became even more committed to the program after helping to replace several unsafe ramps throughout the county.

“We’ve replaced some I wouldn’t have gone on,” said Longley. “And there’s older people using them every day. It’s scary.”

The ramp in Oswego was the second one the lodge has helped build this year alone, but even with dedicated groups such as the Elks the waiting list for the program continues to grow.

“We’re doing our part because it’s sad to see (ARISE) has such a long list of people who need ramps installed,” said Oldenburg.

Pecoy said ARISE currently has a waiting list of about 53 houses in need of ramps, with calls continuing to come in from individuals who learn about the program.

In order to be eligible for the Oswego County Ramp Program, individuals must live within the county, be income-eligible, and must have a mobility impairment that makes it difficult to access their home. The program is available to both homeowners and renters.

“People will call us and say they require a ramp,” said Pecoy. “We verify their need with a note from a medical professional, and then they are added to the list.”

This year alone the Oswego Elks Lodge has installed a ramp in the city of Oswego and one in Palermo, with other groups such as Novelis, Pathfinder Bank, Wal-Mart, and Team RWB committed to helping with future builds.

“We’ve gone as far as Williamstown,” said Pecoy. “But we install them mostly in Fulton and the outskirts.”

Along with relying on volunteers for the installation days, Pecoy said they are continuously recruiting help with building the wooden ramp sections.

“Each ramp is usually about four to five sections long,” said Pecoy, adding they are able to reuse each section about three or four times. He said, “When the family no longer needs the ramp, we pick it up, take it back to the church, and refurbish the sections.”

Pecoy said the average ramp would typically cost a family about $1,500, which is not a small price tag, especially in economically disadvantaged areas.

One of the biggest populations Pecoy sees in need of ramps are senior citizens who may be facing new mobility issues as they age, while also trying to manage living on a fixed income. Often, having a ramp installed at their home makes it easier for the elderly to go grocery shopping, make doctor appointments, and maintain a level of independence.

“The ramps allow people to get out into the community and be part of society,” said Pecoy. “For the most part, they’re always very happy.”

Those wishing to learn more about the Oswego County Ramp Program, or who are interested in volunteering to assemble sections or install ramps, may contact Pecoy at 315-342-4088, ext. 213. More information can also be found by visiting www.ariseinc.org.