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Safe way home: Group builds wheelchair ramp for veteran

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Kyle Martin, Staff Writer

A disabled Marine Corps veteran can now walk up and down a ramp to his Denton home or cruise through on his wheelchair instead of fearing a fall, thanks to a mostly volunteer group that lent helping hands.

The project to build a ramp for Robert "Bill" Steele, led by local group Green Build Solutions, started last November and was completed in April. Because most of the crew operated on a volunteer basis, their workdays were mostly Saturdays, and several delays put them behind schedule. 

But board by board, they came up with a finished product that Steele can safely maneuver on,  free from worries of injury.

Steele has lived in his double-wide mobile home in Denton for 18 years. After he first started using a wheelchair about three years ago because of medical issues regarding his back and knees, he sometimes struggled to walk up and down the five steps to his house. 

His injuries, which started with his right knee being injured from stepping in a pothole during his first 3-mile run at boot camp, left him wary of quick movements or steep inclines. After serving for 121 days during 1975-76, Steele was discharged from the military due to his medical conditions, which now include two collapsed vertebrae in his back and neck.

Now that he has both a wheelchair and his ramp, he can safely maneuver around his home.

“It makes it easier to get around. I’d rather walk up and down to get to the ground level than to use the five steps,” Steele said. “[With] the five steps, I was afraid I might injure myself. And now I can just take the cover off of my wheelchair and ride it on down and mount it on my lift and take off.”

Michael Loya, left, and Robert "Bill" Steele stand on Steele's finished wheelchair ramp in front of his home in June in Denton. Volunteers began building the ramp in November 2016, finishing it in April 2017.DRC
Michael Loya, left, and Robert "Bill" Steele stand on Steele's finished wheelchair ramp in front of his home in June in Denton. Volunteers began building the ramp in November 2016, finishing it in April 2017.
DRC

He’s sure the ramp is built to last.

“If there’s ever a tornado, I can crawl under the ramp and the house may go, but the deck and the ramp ain’t going nowhere,” Steele said.

Michael Loya, managing partner at Green Build Solutions, met Steele after giving a presentation at a local Marine Corps League meeting. Steele is a member in the league, which is a congressionally chartered support group for U.S. Marines. After Loya learned of Steele’s needs, the project began. 

From here, Loya said he hopes that the project will gain traction and that they will be able to make it an ongoing program. 

“What we’re working on now is getting one or two carpenters on a regular basis, so we’ll have our volunteer help that help whenever they can, but we want to get this funded where then we have a regular crew that’s on it all the time,” Loya said. “And then I want to start taking applications for people that need ramps and [Americans with Disabilities Act] access too.”

Several stores in and around Denton got involved in the project, and Loya said more than $2,000 in materials were donated to help the cause. Kim Walters, an assistant manager at the Home Depot in Denton, said her store often gets involved in projects like building wheelchair ramps, remodeling homes and other community-outreach projects. For this project, her store donated pressure-treated lumber.

Donating materials to projects that help build up the local community is something the store and company will continue to do, she said. She said supporting the community and donating materials to local projects is “an ongoing process.”

The "Ramps for Vets" initiative would not have been possible without the help of local residents donating their time and materials. One volunteer in particular said this project meant a lot to him because he is a Marine Corps veteran himself. 

“I like working with wood and building things, of course. But the most important thing is helping my fellow veterans with their needs,” Ken Horn said. “A lot of veterans have the same problem and they paid for it when they served, and we just need to show not only our concern, but our gratitude toward them and help keep this great nation going.”