Maddalynn Poirier couldn’t wait for the last few pieces of wood to be painted Sunday afternoon before she tried out her new wheelchair ramp.
The 9-year-old grabbed both wheels and zipped up the ramp to the front door of her Kennewick home, then slowly backed her way down to the sidewalk.
“Aw man, that’s awesome,” Justin M. Poirier said, watching his daughter. “That is great. I can’t beat that.”
The new ramp — installed in five hours by 10 volunteers with Rebuilding Mid-Columbia — is a vast improvement from the one made by Maddie’s dad and great-grandfather.
The bottom of the original wood ramp is not flush with the ground, so someone needs to give Maddie a push over the edge of the board. To make way for the new one, that ramp was quickly moved inside the garage where Maddie can still use it to get into the house from her dad’s vehicle.
Poirier, himself a disabled veteran, is a single father raising two disabled kids. Leighton, 10, has Down syndrome and Maddie, an incomplete quadriplegic who has use of her arms, was paralyzed in a January 2016 car crash that killed their mother, Dawn.
Poirier, 36, graduated from Southridge High in 1999.
The family moved back to the Tri-Cities last year so Poirier could be close to his parents. But now that the young family is in their own home, Poirier wanted a wheelchair ramp that would help Maddie feel better about herself by being able to go up on her own.
In October, he reached out to Rebuilding Mid-Columbia, a nonprofit organization that “seeks to improve the lives of our neighbors and strengthen our community” by offering critical home repairs and modifications at no cost for low-income homeowners, especially seniors, veterans, single parents and people with disabilities.
The Richland-based organization just celebrated its first anniversary since becoming incorporated. It currently has a list of 60 families in need of help.
Crystal Carter, the co-founder and executive director, said the work her volunteers do addresses not only the physical, but also the emotional needs of the families.
The organization first must get sponsorship for each project before starting the work. But Carter said she has learned how to stretch sponsorships to cover three families by making every dollar donated worth $6 in repairs.
“We definitely are good for pinching pennies,” she said.
The volunteers on Sunday all were employees of Areva, one of the largest manufacturers in the Tri-Cities. Areva volunteers are some of Rebuilding Mid-Columbia’s biggest supporters and have built between 35 and 40 ramps, Carter said.
A $2,500 donation from Columbia Center Rotary went toward the construction of three wheelchair ramps, including the one for Maddie.
Carter said after she heard the story of the Pourier family and vetted them, there was no question the organization would step in to help.
“For somebody who served our country, I think it’s the least we can do to say thank you,” she said. “And let’s be honest, once you meet the kids, they steal your heart.”
Poirier served in the Navy from 1999 to 2002. He was on duty in 2001 and a passenger in a car that was involved in a crash.
In addition to a traumatic brain injury and spinal compression, Poirier broke every bone in his lower body. He spent a year in a hospital, and another three years in and out.
Poirier married Dawn in December 2005 and the following year the couple moved to Texas. Dawn Poirier had been in the Air Force. They had Leighton in 2006 and welcomed twins in 2008.
Maddie’s twin, Khaiden, died at 4 months from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Then on Jan. 14, 2016, Justin Poirier was in Austin when he got the call that his wife and kids had been in a collision in Livingston, Texas. Dawn was killed, and Leighton and Maddie were critically injured.
Justin Poirier is unable to work because caring for his son and daughter is a full-time job. He also continues to have his own medical problems from his crash 16 years ago.
Poirier said he sought help from Rebuilding Mid-Columbia because he is trying to give his kids the tools to be able to succeed without him.
“It’s just great that these guys all volunteer their time to make things a little bit easier for me and for my kids,” Poirier said. “I’m blessed, the fact that the people did this. It’s awesome.”
People who want to volunteer, donate or sponsor a project can visit rebuildingmc.org.