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An inside look at the MHO Ramp Festival

JUNE 7, 2010 – The aging mobile home sat on a hill, along a winding road in the mountains of Swannanoa. It was 9:30 am, but the team of volunteers from the Eaton Corporation was already hard at work on the accessibility ramp they were building onto the front of the home. This ramp was the most challenging on the list this year, because the mobile home is located a mere six feet from the edge of the hill; the ramp had to run the length of the home before it touched down, and it had to be stable on the sloping ground. The homeowner, Theresa, sat at the top of her ramp-in-progress and smiled and chatted with the volunteers as they worked. Her gratitude overflowed the moment you approached her. “There’s never enough thanks; never enough thanks for this,” she said. 

David Sluder, Crew Leader of Volunteers for Mountain Housing Opportunities, has been working with the Ramp Festival for 11 years. “Most of these crews have worked with us multiple years,” said Sluder. “That’s part of how we’re able to do it. Some are smaller, some are larger, so we have a modular system for ramp building that we use, and that’s how we’re able to do 8-10 ramps in one day.” Throughout the year, MHO volunteer crews will build 22-23 ramps. Sluder said he trains new groups on other ramps during the year, to get ready for the tighter schedule of the Ramp Festival. “I’ll work with a new group a couple of days on a particular job, with our particular system of ramp building, to get them introduced to it. And over time, they get ready for the Ramp Festival.” 

Each year, the staff of MHO and some of their board members form meet-and-greet teams to go to check on the progress, provide some refreshments, and thank the volunteers for their hard work. This was Resource Development Officer Lisa Keeter’s first Ramp Festival, and she enjoyed the opportunity to see the work firsthand. “That’s just one of the aspects of the organization, but it was fun to go out to all the different locations all over the county – to find that all of the volunteers were so willing to help and to do something to give back to their community.” The clients she encountered were just as grateful as Theresa. “The clients were very appreciative, and were very happy that they could now have a more functional life and be able to do more things because of the ramp.”

There were a total of eight ramps built this year, with seven being built the day of the festival, and another one going up a couple of weeks later. “The real goal of the volunteer program is to provide accessibility and involve the community in the work of MHO,” said Sluder. “This is a real, tangible way that folks can get involved and make a difference for somebody in the community. You get there in the morning and you see the needs of a person to have this ramp, and you leave the next day having completed it and seeing how it helps their mobility.”

Sluder worked with one client whose mobility changed during the winter – which was particularly harsh in Buncombe County this year – and they were unable to get a ramp built for her until the Ramp Festival in May. “I went out to see her the week following the Ramp Festival, and I hadn’t been able to get in touch with her the day before. She’d gone to Wal-Mart with her daughter. All winter long she’d only left the house to go to doctor’s appointments, because of how difficult it was to get out. Now she can get in her motorized chair and ride down the ramp, and come and go as she pleases. Something that we take so much for granted.”

For the staff of MHO and the crews of volunteers, seeing the smiles on the faces of the homeowners is the reason for coming out each year. “That’s what it’s all about is providing access, freedom, independence and safety for these people,” said Sluder. “Our crews get that, and they’re just very enthusiastic to be a part of it.”


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