The Picayune / 101HighlandLakes.com
KINGSLAND — The sound of hammers pounded away outside the Kingsland home of Jesse Espinoza early April 27. It was just after 8 a.m., and a crew of men began sawing, hammering, and talking just outside his door.
Espinoza, a 21-year veteran of the Marine Corps, who served a stint in Vietnam, had only returned home after a few days in the hospital. One might think the hammering and sound of saws just outside his door would annoy him, but Espinoza didn’t mind at all. In fact, he was happy to see them.
“It’s great what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s going to help me a lot.”
The men outside, many wearing bright yellow T-shirts bearing the words “Texas Ramp Project,” are building Espinoza a new ramp that leads from his door to the ground. The structure is wheelchair accessible and meets all Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. It’s far better than the small deck and set of stairs that Don Barlow and the crew of volunteers found at Espinoza’s door when they arrived.
“It was, well, let’s just say when I was up there (on the old stairs), the guys were bracing it because we weren’t sure it would hold up,” Barlow said.
As the site leader, Barlow oversees the project, but he pointed out that most of the men have been volunteering with this particular Texas Ramp Project team for awhile, so they know what needs to be done and how to do it.
Texas Ramp Project is a nonprofit that builds wheelchair-accessible ramps for people who need them but probably can’t afford them. There are teams across the state that provide the all-volunteer service in several regions. The Austin West region encompasses Burnet, Blanco, and Llano counties. The unit at Espinoza’s house is from Hill Country Fellowship Church of Burnet, but the crew comes from a number of congregations, including First Baptist Church and First United Methodist Church, both in Marble Falls.
“We do this for the glory of God,” Barlow said. “He calls us to help our neighbors, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Funding for the 52-foot ramp at Espinoza’s home came from a foundation, but Barlow said Texas Ramp Project relies on donations to build the ramps.
The need is there.
“Our goal is to build 18 ramps this year,” Barlow said. “I think this is our third one this month.”
The ramps provide the recipient a safe way in and out of their home. Espinoza said his diabetes has led to heart complications, which make walking difficult. He built the previous set of steps nine years ago for his wife, who has since passed away. He didn’t think he’d ever need one but is grateful to the men outside his home.
“This is going to make it so much better for me, getting in and out,” Espinoza said.
Outside, the men are already connecting the new ramp to Espinoza’s manufactured home. Barlow explained that it’s usually a two-day process. They get the measurements from the home then build the ramp frame at another location. The next day, the crew arrives at the home, tears down the previous set of stairs or ramp, and installs the new one.
“We’ll get it done today,” Barlow said about the new structure.
Bob Gilbertson began volunteering with the local Texas Ramp Project team in about 2006.
“I got interested in it and just wanted to help,” he said. “It’s about helping people like God wants us to do.”
The men volunteer their time, talents, and tools. Barlow estimated that, since the crew formed several years ago, it has built 40 or so ramps. That means there are at least 40 people or families who now have a safe, stable way of getting in and out of their homes. Along with that safety comes a level of independence they might not have experienced before the crew in the yellow T-shirts showed up and built a ramp.
“It’s amazing,” Espinoza said. “I can’t believe someone would do this for me, but they are.”
“We’re just serving God, by helping others,” Barlow added.
To request a ramp or recommend someone for one, go to texasramps.org. Barlow added that, since the program runs on donations, people can also go to the site to make donations. There’s even a page on the website for those interested in volunteering.