Chesapeake Housing Mission: Making life easier

CAMBRIDGE — Chesapeake Housing Mission had a busy day in Cambridge on April 27. That Thursday, the Cambridge Rotary Club joined Mission volunteers on a construction project. Nelson and Edna Goslin on Ram Road were the recipients of a new wheelchair ramp to help Edna get down the steps. It will make a big difference for a couple who have to deal with using a wheelchair to get around, but for the Chesapeake Housing Mission, it’s just another good deed — something they do as often and for as many folks as they can.

The Chesapeake Housing Mission was formed to provide vital housing repair services through Christian Mission to low-income families living in the Chesapeake region and was recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in July 2009. A leaking roof or a bad floor might be considered for a client, but the main thing the Mission builds is wheelchair ramps.

We met Allen Nelson, Cambridge Rotary member and a board member of the Chesapeake Housing Mission, and talked to him about the work they were doing on the site. At 10 in the morning, the project site was already buzzing with activity, with a dozen volunteers cutting wood, building frames and setting pressure-treated posts. Allen told us about the organization.

“Chesapeake Housing Mission has been around for a number of years now,” he told us. “They initially started down in the Wicomico area, and now they’re serving the lower four counties of the Eastern Shore. A lot of the activity hosted by the Chesapeake Housing Mission has been in the lower Shore, and now we’re trying to bring more projects into Dorchester County. We’ve done quite a few projects here in Dorchester County in the past two years. We have support from the County Council in waiving permit fees for the ramps we build, and for making it simple dealing with the various offices in which we have to get permits.”

Constructing a ramp may seem like a simple thing, but not if the people affected by the need can’t afford it. Mr. Nelson told us that a ramp the size of the one they were building could cost as much as $5,000 or more, and without the resources to pay for it, the elderly and/or disabled would have to do without.

Mr. Nelson told us there is plenty of need for ramps in the region, the only catch is finding out where they’re needed.

“Our clients are referrals from Social Services, or from emergency medical personnel who have to call on disabled folks and help to get them out if there’s an emergency,” he said. “But it’s one area where we need a lot of help — we know there’s a lot of need, it’s just a matter of connecting with the folks who need our help.”

All of the ramps built by Chesapeake Housing Mission are built to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) specifications, and are built to protect the people who are using them. The slope of the ramp must be calculated to a minimal angle, and everything must be built to satisfy proper building codes.

“We don’t cheapen things, but the whole process is designed so that a ramp can be built in one day,” Mr. Nelson told us. “Some of the board members are engineers and draftsmen, and they have a model ramp design to follow. They give us blueprints for each project, and have jigs made to help construction. At the end, most of our volunteers are not contractors or carpenters, but we can do as good of a job as a contractor can do. Chesapeake Housing takes care of the permitting process, they order all of the materials, they have everything ready to go when we go on a project.”

Every job is different, and in this case the ramp had to take a turn to the backyard before starting the down-slope to the front, in order to create a gentle angle for the ramp. The crew was building the deck sections on a jig, and fitting them in place as the project took shape. There was no mistaking it for anything other than work, but the Rotary members spread the work out and were clearly enjoying their day in the sunshine.

“I like building stuff,” Mr. Nelson said, while cutting planks to size on a chop saw. “I would classify myself, as a lot of us do, as a wanna-be carpenter.

“We have another ramp to build this weekend in town, and a group from Hebron is coming out to help build it. One thing we do need is more groups to get involved, to come out and help us build. It’s not extremely difficult work, but you do need some energy! There’s some lifting and carrying involved, but we spread the work out across the volunteers. There’s a job for everybody. And the reward is absolutely incredible.”

It’s amazing how quickly a project can take shape, and even with a crew of amateurs the Goslin’s ramp was nearing completion in the early afternoon. In the end, they’ll have a great ramp to make coming and going a whole lot easier, and, according to Mr. Nelson, the volunteers will go home with their own satisfaction.

“When we were asked about doing our first ramp,” he told us, “I said ‘Sure, let’s go do this.’ When the project was all finished and the lady came out, and rolled her brother out onto that first ramp — he hadn’t been able to get outside for quite some time, without having two or three people lifting him and his chair out of the house. When I saw the smile on his face, I was done. It melted me away. I thank the Lord that I have the ability to do something, and if we can get out and give these folks a life — well, we’ve just got to do it. It is so rewarding. To see the difference you can make in people’s lives makes it all worthwhile.”

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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