After Debora Blakeway had back surgery, she needed a wheelchair ramp for her house in St. Paul.
But, she recalled with dry humor, “It’s really funny how some people take advantage of people.”
Some builders wanted more than $8,000, she said. Others offered rental ramps, but for the equivalent of a monthly house payment. A nurse, Blakeway had been living on disability for some time “so I didn’t have that kind of money.”
So she was grateful to find Rebuilding Together Twin Cities, a community revitalization organization that relies on volunteers to provide services such as ramps to homeowners with limited financial resources.
Soon, she met the Ramp Crew, a group of retired Honeywell employees who, since forming in 2012, have built more than 30 ramps for people in need. In doing so, they’ve donated almost 4,400 hours, the equivalent of two full years of work by a full-time builder.
Members of the crew come from all aspects of Honeywell, said supervisor Armand Peterson of Maple Grove.
“We have manufacturers, design engineers, technicians, managers,” he said. “The repartee is pretty interesting sometimes. But we don’t even talk about what we did for a living. We get together and enjoy ourselves, and enjoy helping some people when we can.”
Somewhat to their surprise, the crew is without jobs for the upcoming build season. Rebuilding Together Twin Cities has sent out a call for ramp applications in the Twin Cities area. (They’re looking for homeowners in need of new roofs, as well.)
Interested people can receive an application by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 651-776-4273. There are several criteria for homeownership, income and age that must be met to be considered.
Peterson described the Ramp Crew as the hands-on labor after all the important work gets done, such as the design work and getting inspectors’ approvals. Rebuilding Together worked with the Minnesota Center for Independent Living to design a temporary ramp system, made of short pre-assembled sections, that could be built by nonprofessional volunteers.
“We are grateful for every member of the Ramp Crew,” said Kathy Greiner, executive director of Rebuilding Together Twin Cities. “The team is always willing to jump into action so those in need of a ramp can continue to live safely and independently.”
Of the core group of 12, “there are three guys you could call craftsmen, three or four who didn’t know a screw driver from a circle saw when they started,” Peterson said. “In the middle, it’s guys who can do a good job with someone who knows what to do.”
The Honeywell Employee Club often stops by with coffee and doughnuts.
“Our purpose is to keep people in their homes,” Peterson said.
The crew has built ramps for an 80-year-old with mobility problems, a young mother of a child with disabilities, and a young man injured in a car accident. Some need the ramps for a short time, others for longer.
Blakeway, whose ramp was built in 2014, no longer needs a wheelchair. But with continuing back problems and surgery, she relies on the ramp to provide a safe walking surface to get to her part-time job at Land O’Lakes as a product evaluator.
“And it’s the only way I would have gotten out of the house to get to rehab,” she said. “You have to think of the ramps as a way of getting people out of rehab units and transitional care. If you can get into your home, it really helps.”