PASCO -- To someone in a wheelchair, stairs are an impassable obstacle, but a group of dedicated volunteers are changing that one ramp at a time.
"Those of us who can get around easily take it for granted," said Marley Eichstaedt, executive director of Northwest Fair Housing Alliance.
She drove to Pasco from her Spokane office Monday to present a $4,000 check to Volunteer Chore Services, a program of Catholic Family & Child Service, which builds ramps, handrails and other building modifications for low-income seniors and the disabled in the Tri-Cities.
"Every ramp has its own special story," said volunteer ramp builder Frank Wentz of Kennewick. "One time a lady said she was so happy to get one because she hadn't been able to get out and go to church and now she can. Another said her daughter lives several miles away and she, too, is in a wheelchair. The daughter hadn't been able to come visit because she couldn't get into the house; now she can."
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Wentz is one of a handful of volunteers who specialize in building the ramps. In the year and a half he's been with Volunteer Chore Services, Wentz has helped design and build 31 ramps.
"We get a lot of requests, more than we are able to fund through grants. Usually our only funding is through donations and money like this is really important for our projects to help us meet the needs of the community," he said. "There's always a waiting list."
"They'll be able to buy a lot of screws and wood with that money," said his wife, Judy.
The donation came from a discrimination settlement received by the housing alliance, which has the mission of eliminating housing discrimination and ensuring accessibility for disabled Washington residents. Eichstaedt's office covers 20 counties in Eastern and Central Washington.
"The staff and the board wanted part of the settlement to go to an organization that helps to provide accessibility for people with disabilities. Since the labor (for the ramps) is all volunteer, they'll be able to maximize the funds," Eichstaedt said.
"With the donation we'll be able to build at least the six on the waiting list and perhaps a few more," said Diane Hart, Elder Services director for the Catholic Family & Child Service Senior Companion Program, which includes the chore services program.
The wheelchair ramps help more than just the person who's disabled. Caregivers -- who often are family members -- benefit because it's a lot easier to wheel someone up a ramp and into the house than it is to carry them up stairs.
"It makes doctor and physical therapy appointments, shopping, just getting around much easier," Eichstaedt said.
And the chore services volunteers benefit, too.
"It's a good activity for volunteers who enjoy being outdoors and physical activity. There is a lot of satisfaction in doing something like this and the people we help appreciate it. They're profuse in their thanks," Wentz said.
For more information or to volunteer or make a donation, call Hart at 545-6145.
* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org