When Jason Townsend finally got out of the hospital after a debilitating illness, Melissa Townsend was thrilled to be taking her husband home. That is, until she realized that a mountain seemed to have grown between their home’s walkway and the front door.
“It was apparent when he came out of the hospital he wasn’t going to be able to handle the three steps,” she said as she recalled the stress of having her husband fall ill and needing to care for him and find ways to pay the bills.
And get him into the house.
That’s where volunteers from Serve the Need in Johnston County came in. One of the nonprofit organization’s missions is to pitch in when physically limited people or the elderly need ramps built to provide safe access to their homes.
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“From our perspective, we’re that last hope,” said Royal Williams of Wendell, whose latest role with the group is president.
Though a ramp from Serve the Need won’t completely change a person’s circumstances, Williams is glad the volunteer teams can make a small difference for people with mobility struggles. Started in 2009, the organization also helps veterans, aids community food programs and has adopted Selma Middle School.
For the Ramps & Repairs program, volunteer teams construct ramps and perform simple home repairs. Clients are asked to fund materials, and grants and other support are sought from organizations such as the N.C. Community Foundation, civic groups and churches.
Today at the Townsends’ Willow Spring home, an L-shaped wooden ramp supported by four-by-four posts and heavy bolts leads from the driveway to the front porch. Sturdy railings help steady Jason Townsend, 48, on the days he can maneuver with a walker and leg braces, and the wide plank deck allows access for his manual wheelchair. He can rest on a flat landing at the turn.
“They really know what they’re doing. I was expecting two-by-fours and nothing fancy,” said Townsend, who until he fell ill worked in the admissions department at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro.
He said that after receiving a flu vaccination last year, he was stricken with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which led to a rare trifecta of mobility-impairing autoimmune diseases when “stiff person syndrome” and Parkinson’s disease followed. Some days he loses the ability to speak or to move a leg.
Melissa Townsend, 49, has been on leave from her job as a special education teacher in Johnston County Schools. The ramp expense was daunting, but “then our church was kind enough to pick up the materials tab,” she said.
Another recent Serve the Need client, Linwood Harris of Clayton, needed help because of physical limitations after a stroke in 2007. He had the added challenge of needing to meet the appearance requirements set by new ownership at the mobile home park where he rents a lot for the trailer he owns.
The 52-year-old former West Craven High School football, basketball and track athlete works as a teacher assistant at Garner High School and serves as an assistant football, basketball and track coach at Raleigh Charter High School. But he’s conscious of his mobility issues and the need to be safe.
“I can’t use my (right) arm. I don’t have control of it,” he said. “I can move it just a little. My (right) leg, I can get around with it, but I’m walking with a limp and all. But I’m surviving. I’ve been living by myself, and nothing has happened where I needed help right then. God has looked out for me.”
A crew of seven men replaced shaky front steps that didn’t meet building codes and added a storm door. A ramp with a landing now allows him to stand safely to unlock the back door he had been unable to access.
“It was something that you could figure that they were doing something they loved to do,” Harris said.
Harris said he is making payments for the materials, which approached $1,000. He also had to buy underpinning and paint required by the new landlord.
“I thank them for doing so much for me. It came at a good time,” he said.
Williams, 66, hopes to encourage more organizations, churches and individual volunteers to join the effort to help people who are injured, ill or elderly gain safe access to their homes.
“I believe we’re supposed to do as Christians what we can to help others,” he said.
Serve the Need in Johnston County
P.O. Box 1016 Clayton, NC 27528
Contact: Royal Williams, 919-749-9553
Description: . Through partnerships with churches, schools, corporations, civic and veterans organizations, Serve the Need In Johnston County works to help unmet needs of county residents.
Donations needed: To build handicap ramps and to provide scholarships to high school students in need who are college bound.
Volunteers needed: Yes, with a variety of skill sets.
$10 would buy: Materials.
$20 would buy: A tool for building.
$50 would buy: Wood for building a ramp.