HANCOCK COUNTY — A group of Hancock County volunteers is joining forces with a state nonprofit in hopes of bolstering local efforts to make the homes of neighbors in need more handicapped accessible.

Local nonprofit leaders are working to form a Hancock County chapter of Servants at Work Inc., or SAWs, an Indianapolis-based charitable organization that works to build free wheelchair ramps for people with disabilities and other conditions.

Folks from around Hancock County have been doing such work on their own locally for more than a year but say they’ve struggled to meet the demand for ramps because of lack of funding and steady volunteer base, officials said.

At one point, the list of those waiting to have a ramp built outside their Hancock County home swelled to 13 people, while fulfilling just one request resulted in a 14-hour day for volunteers, officials said.

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Now, local leaders hope the affiliation with SAWs will help streamline that work, bringing in volunteers who can build more ramps in less time while spreading word of the effort so the ministry can help more people, said Jim Peters, executive director of Love INC, who helps coordinate the work in Hancock County.

Hancock County would be SAWs’ 36th affiliate group, officials said.

The organization built about 1,000 ramps last year, according to founder and chief operating officer Rik Hagarty. It makes software available to its affiliate groups that helps volunteers order and cut lumber efficiently, reducing waste and saving time.

SAWs volunteers use an assembly process that the organization has honed over its 13 years that includes pre-building parts of the ramp, which cuts the build time to as little as three hours, depending on the site, Hagarty said.

The wooden ramps are solid but temporary in that they are not anchored with concrete or footings, Peters said, which allows them to be removed if a resident moves. Built in this manner, the structure does not require permits and is also a relief to landlords, Peters said.

Peters said volunteers from Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield have taken the lead in ramp building. He’d like to see teams form at a few other area churches, with someone from the experienced Park Chapel team offering supervision.

Stacey Butterfield, who volunteers building ramps with the team from Park Chapel, said the local effort to build was sporadic until organizers realized the greater need that existed.

As they worked to better meet that need, they realized SAWs had already perfected the process, Butterfield said.

“It’s fine-tuned; it’s beautiful,” she said. “Instead of trying to recreate this wheel, … they’ve been teaching us their process.”

SAWs representatives and local volunteers got together during an Oct. 29 ramp-building session during which local volunteers were able to learn the SAWs process, Butterfield said.

“It just was seamless,” she said.

The SAWs affiliation comes at no cost. Hagarty said the benefit of the relationship to his organization is knowing more ramps can be built. He estimates 10,000 Hoosiers “are virtually prisoners in their own homes,” at times kept in by something as small as a threshold, and the Indianapolis group would never be able to meet that need by itself.

“The only way to better serve this population … is to multiply our groups,” Hagarty said. “We’ve found, like the group in Hancock County, there are a lot of folks out there that perceive the need and are trying to meet it…

“We try to bring tools and processes to the party and allow the people that want to get this need met the ability to meet it” more efficiently and on a larger scale, he said.

The process

When Love INC receives a call about the need for a wheelchair ramp, it sends a questionnaire for the resident to fill out.

Meanwhile, a volunteer enters specifications into SAWs’ software. Someone visits the ramp site to measure and take photos.

Project managers set the build date, order lumber and form a team.

Then parts of the ramp are pre-built. For example, most ramps have a 5-by-5-feet landing at the door.

The resident calls to have utility lines marked ahead of the build.

The morning of the build, the project manager picks up prefabrications and takes them to the home, where the team builds the ramp. The wooden ramps are solid but temporary — not anchored with concrete or footings, which allows them to be removed if a resident moves. Built in this manner, the structure does not require permits and is also a relief to landlords.

For information, contact Love INC at 317-468-6300.

How to help

Lend a hand: A call-out meeting for those interested in volunteering to help build ramps is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 12 at Park Chapel Christian Church, 1176 E. McKenzie Road, Greenfield.

The tasks have been broken down to make projects more volunteer-friendly, with a variety of capacities through which to get involved.

People with building expertise guide the project, but helping with assembly is simple and can be tailored for volunteers of all ages, officials said.

Offer warehouse space: Local ramp-building volunteers are looking for a place where volunteers could store lumber and go to pre-build parts of ramps. Lumber storage would allow them to buy in bulk and save money. Space to leave tools already set up would save time. The group seeks a space with 4,000 to 5,000 square feet.

Support the cause: Donations help buy lumber and deck screws to build more ramps. Call Love INC at 317-468-6300 or visit loveinc-ghc.org/donate to contribute.

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Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at asmith@greenfieldreporter.com