Ramping Up

Volunteers in eastern Illinois build free wheelchair ramps that keep houses feeling like home

Larry Burton standing in front of a ramp he built with the Iroquois County Ramp Builders

On July 26, 1990, then-President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. In part, the law states that people with disabilities are entitled to equal access to public life. This includes physical access in the form of elevators, stair lifts and wheelchair ramps. But while the ADA has transformed public spaces, it stops short at the doorstep of a vital institution: the private home.

At home, wheelchair ramps give users the freedom to come and go as they please. Without a ramp, even simple errands can be frustrating and time-consuming. For the elderly, wheelchair ramps can mean the difference between staying at home or moving to a residential facility. That's why one Thrivent Action Team is working to bring ramps to anyone who needs them.

A growing need

The Iroquois County Ramp Builders have been building home wheelchair ramps since 1988. As Larry Burton, a Thrivent Financial representative and volunteer builder, explains, "It all started with a member of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Crescent City, Illinois, who needed a ramp."

Once the team built the ramp – and word got out about the project – demand for their services grew steadily. In the early years, a small number of determined volunteers built 10 ramps a year on average. Today, the Ramp Builders have 20 volunteers who build 50 to 60 ramps each year.

Burton credits the group's increased visibility for the growth. "A lot of people find us through Facebook and word of mouth," he says. "And the more ramps that go up, the more people hear and talk about us."

Virtually all volunteers share deep experience working with their hands. As Burton notes, several in the group are retired farmers, and their carpentry skills are a given.

"It's about being generous with my time to help people in need. To me, by building these ramps, I'm living The Thrivent Way."

Building independence

When people see the finished ramps, their joy is palpable. "They're elated to have them, and amazed at how quickly they go up," Burton says. With 10 to 12 volunteers, a typical ramp can be completed in six hours.

The Iroquois County Ramp Builders make their services available for free to anyone in the northern Illinois county, whether their disability is temporary or permanent. As a Thrivent Action Team, the group receives $250 Community Impact Cards for some builds. They also receive funds through frequent partnerships with the Options Center for Independent Living, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting people with disabilities. These and other monetary donations help purchase materials, tools and transportation.

For Burton, who's volunteered with the group whenever possible for five years, getting to witness the immediate impact of his efforts is powerful. "It makes a difference to quality of life right away, to help someone get in and out of their home." He also sees the work as an ideal combination of his professional and personal values. "It's about being generous with my time to help people in need," he says. "To me, by building these ramps, I'm living The Thrivent Way."

Make an immediate impact in your community

To learn how you can give back in your local community, check out Thrivent Action Teams.

Not yet a member? Learn more about Thrivent and what makes us different.