Building Wheelchair Ramps for Disabled Seniors: Jay First Baptist Church in Florida

Help residents regain some independence and safe access to their homes.

For seniors with disabilities, a simple device can mean safe access to their homes—and the ability to live independently. That’s why Jay First Baptist Church in Jay, Fla., builds wooden wheelchair ramps for local seniors at no charge.

“If someone needs a ramp, we step up and do it,” Pastor William Rushing says. “It’s one way for us to be the church in our community.”

The Jay Walking Outreach Ministry, which also includes a food pantry and clothing closet serving primarily seniors, originated when the church left the building for a day of community service in 2008, opening members’ eyes to the needs of the underserved senior population in their small town of roughly 700 people. With referrals from the Red Cross, the local hospital and the medical clinic, a team of retired church members began using discounted lumber from a neighboring town to construct ramps for seniors with disabilities. But the ramps were tough to fund at $500 to $600 each.

Then Rushing learned about several governmental grants available to help their cause. In 2009, the church secured a grant to subsidize the ramps and food pantry, and in January 2010, received a $12,500 grant from Communities for a Lifetime, a partnership between the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and AARP, specifically for wheelchair ramps and home improvement projects. Using these funds, a team of 10 church members built 13 ramps in a year. One was for an 80-year-old woman with disabilities who had no way of getting out of her house.

“Our team went and evaluated it, bought materials and built a ramp within three days,” Rushing says.

But the church is building relationships as well. Says Rushing: “With a state grant, you can’t proselytize, but we can build the relationship, and later the people who have been touched by our church will call on us for help.”

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