MOULTRIE, Ga. — Overlooked but plentiful. For John Strong Jr., this is what the handicapped, disabled and military veteran citizens are to society. Because of this he and two colleagues created the Build A Ramp Foundation to bridge, or rather ramp, them to society.
The foundation, powered by Strong, Eric Powell and Chucky Jackson, has built 30 ramps to date within Colquitt County and surrounding areas. They’re still planning more.
Helping the “overlooked” of all ages, Strong said it was an obligation to the community.
“There are a lot of people in Colquitt County, Moultrie and surrounding areas that are wheelchair bound,” he said. “Especially military veterans. We got people who fought in Vietnam [and] Desert Storm in a wheelchair, with one leg or suffering from other kinds of ailments and they can’t even come out the house because it’s not handicap accessible.”
While these people need handicap accessibility, they don’t often have the money for it. Enter the Build A Ramp Foundation. It comes free of charge and uses donations of supplies, money and tools to handle the job.
Strong said finding people was the easy part; it’s less a search and more a selection process. Any community member can send a picture with a description of the person in need, and they’ll be entered on a waitlist.
Once their spot is reached, the picture and description are posted on social media (Facebook usually) where the Foundation asks the community for donations.
“Whatever people donate, Home Depot will match the rest,” Strong said.
By “matching,” Home Depot usually donates materials itself or allows the Foundation to buy materials at a “greatly discounted” price, according to Home Depot Manager Daniel Perry.
“Without the community, there is no Home Depot,” Perry said. “We were just trying to help him out where we could and when we could.”
Perry said the Build A Ramp foundation originally saw a low response rate from the community, but now that’s not the case. Now, there’s an overfilled waiting list with too little manpower to get to them.
“It’s [just] the three of us — me, Chucky, and Eric,” Strong said. “If we had more volunteers and more contributors, we could do a lot more. “
But even with that dilemma, Strong sees this as a good thing. To him, this has become more than about a ramp. It’s a response to dream bigger.
The foundation recently began collaborating with Greater Newton Grove Baptist Church on building a 16-20 bed shelter located at 521 W. Central Ave., a currently abandoned building with $45,000 worth of repairs needed.
The Rev. C.L. Ponder III, head pastor of the church, said this partnership came out of previous projects and a mutual feeling of duty.
“He (Strong) knows what we’re trying to do is something positive and he’s [also] trying to do something positive,” Ponder said. “So, we decided to just do it together, especially since we know it’s definitely a need in the community.”
The idea for the Build-a-Ramp Foundation was sparked by a tragedy.
Jared Taylor was sitting in a car on Christmas day 2018 when a bullet struck his neck, shattering his third cervical spine bone and severely damaging his spinal cord. After a life flight to Macon’s trauma center, he spent a week in intensive care.
It left his mother, Isha Denegall, distraught when she told his story on a gofundme page for her son’s medical expenses, whose goal was $200,000. She didn’t know if she would make that goal, but she knew her son, right then, was paralyzed from the neck down and her home needed handicap modifications.
Hearing about the recent remodeling he’d done, Denegall called Strong and asked if he could build a ramp for her. He promptly said, “yes ma’am.” But it was when she asked how much he’ll charge that an inkling of an idea began.
“I said ‘I can’t charge you nothing. You buy the materials and I’ll build the ramp,’ and it went from there,” Strong said.
And so, he built it. Coming back to Strong-Powell Home Construction, his company with Jackson and Powell, he spoke to his two colleagues and spread the spirit of charity to them.
“What we began doing on a lot of the days that we don’t have nothing to do, we’d find somebody in the community that needed a ramp and we started building [it],” Strong said. “As we went along the project got bigger and bigger.”
But there were times when motivations were low. On July 27, Strong said in a Facebook post, “As of today I will no longer build wheelchair ramps for those in need.” Then, five days later, he recanted.
“I told myself that I was finished building wheelchair ramps for people, but then I came across a wonderful woman that has been diagnosed with cancer and is struggling with it,” he said in his Aug. 1 Facebook post. “Every single day is a major struggle and she told me the only thing that calms her mind is sitting on the porch. Her porch needs repairs bad, so by the grace of God I’m going to go beyond repairs. I’m going to completely tear it down and replace it with something luxurious.”
It was a reminder that the Build A Ramp Foundation wasn’t about him but about bringing back a community divided, he said.
“Black, white, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter. This community can come together and take care of those who need it most,” Strong said.
Anyone wanting to contribute to the Build A Ramp Foundation can go to its gofundme page at https://uk.gofundme.com/f/1p2adj28qo. It has a goal of $10,000 and stands at $405 from five donations