For some, life in seaside St. Augustine in St. Johns County, Florida consists of nothing more than sitting in their homes. These people have a variety of disabilities that affect their mobility–disabilities that are leaving them trapped inside their homes because they do not have wheelchair ramps and cannot afford to build them on their own. One group of volunteers is working tirelessly to change that.
The group, called the Ex-Factor, is made up of ex-employees of the St. Johns Housing Partnership, which previously built ramps for people who needed them. The St. Johns Housing Partnership laid the workers off due to government cutbacks. Rather than being bitter, these former employees fought back with kindness.
As a volunteer member of Ex-Factor, Harold Clemons, who used to get paid for building ramps, pays for the supplies out of his savings, covers gas to get to the site, and loses valuable time from job searching. He does this because the county has “people really in need. I mean, we’re helping people get in and out of their house,” Clemons explained, noting that he is actively looking for work, but can’t ignore those in need.
The people whom the Ex-Factor have helped include Jack Halcomb, a U.S. Navy veteran with a service-related injury that has seriously affected his knees. He wears braces on both legs and was recently told he needs to use a wheelchair. For him, the stairs on his mobile home are dangerous.
“I’ve had a few incidents where I fell off the stairs,” Halcomb recalled. “I try not to go out if I don’t have to. I pretty much stay at home,” he noted.
That should all change now, as the Ex-Factor teamed up with volunteers from Trinity Episcopal in St. Augustine and built a new wheelchair ramp. The Sertoma Club paid for the supplies, which Halcomb said he could not have afforded otherwise.
“I live on a fixed income. Between what little I get from the VA and from Social Security, it’s barely enough to get by,” Halcomb stated.
Now that he has his new Ex-Factor wheelchair ramp, life has indeed changed for Halcomb. “It provides me a lot of freedom. It’s freedom I normally wouldn’t have had.”
This group is off to a great start, but another 20 people with disabilities are on the waiting list for wheelchair ramps in St. Johns County alone, and there are more than 100 people just to the north in Duval County also in need of Ex-Factor help. They range from veterans, to the elderly, to those born with a disability and other who are adjusting to new disabilities caused by accident or illness.
Because each ramp costs about $1,500 to build, even with volunteers doing the labor, the St. Johns Housing Partnership is actively seeking volunteers and donations to meet the demand.
Do you have a similar program or extraordinary group of volunteers like the Ex-Factor in your community?