100 RAMPS and Counting

Imagine having the power to bring joy to those who struggle.
Imagine having the power to grant freedom.
Imagine having the power to change lives.
In the summer of 2005, Mike Dowd, Coleman Wortham, and Gray Fain imagined. The three rising Collegiate School juniors convinced a group of friends to imagine. In the ensuing 12 years, a host of successors have imagined.
The result has been beyond the wildest imagination of all involved.
This is the story of RAMPS, an acronym for Ramp Access Made Possible by Students.
From the outset, RAMPS was a win-win endeavor. The Collegiate students, thanks to generous contributions and their own fund-raising efforts, purchased modular metal ramps, then installed them during their free time at the homes of wheelchair-bound individuals recommended by Elder Homes Inc.
“Collegiate was the birthplace of RAMPS,” said Dowd, who works with HS Engineering & Construction in Richmond. “We had fun building the program. We had a model that we hoped to replicate at other schools.”
Eleven local schools now comprise the RAMPS family. Dowd, Wortham, and their ’07 classmate Will Stettinius serve on the Board of Directors. Approximately 600 students have installed 330 ramps in Central Virginia. Collegiate leads the way. This Friday, a day off from school, Alpha Chapter will construct and place its 100th ramp.
“When you go to college, you leave high school behind,” said Wortham, now a financial advisor at Davenport & Co. “It was really nice to come back to Richmond and see that RAMPS was going so well.”
In 2005, a ramp cost between $2,000 and $3,000 depending on its height, length, and configuration. The plan was for the school club to raise one third of the cost and the RAMPS parent organization and Elder Homes to provide the other two thirds.
The cost now ranges from $2,500 to $4,000. The RAMPS organization has approached foundations and corporate partners to augment the students’ fundraising efforts.
“We’re trying to change our model to focus on year-round fundraising,” Dowd said, “so that when there’s someone who really needs a ramp, we can service that immediately. Since the ramps are temporary, there are some cases where the previous recipient no longer needs it and we’re able to repurpose it for another recipient.”
The current waiting list numbers 65. Recommendations now come from a variety of sources including ProjectHOMES, state agencies, social services, health care providers, and health insurance companies.
As the fundraising procedures have evolved, the mission remains the same.
“The Richmond community has such a need for ramps,” Wortham said. “The waiting list grows every day. Once a club builds one ramp, everybody’s eyes light up when they see how happy someone is to get out of their house. We’ve had people who’ve said they hadn’t been outside for six months without assistance. Now, they can go outside just to sit in the sunshine or smell the flowers by themselves. That’s powerful.”
While RAMPS has provided a new world for recipients and their caregivers, it’s revealed a world beyond North Mooreland Road for its club members.
“RAMPS has opened my eyes to the community,” said Shaan Sharma, a senior and president of the Collegiate organization. “Before I joined RAMPS, I don’t think I had an understanding of what went on in the community, honestly a few miles from my own house.”
David Headly, an Upper School science teacher, has been club sponsor for eight years.
“The kids get to see a part of town they would never see otherwise: real-world Richmond and real-world suffering,” he said. “They also get to see how easy it is to be helpful. We have to be involved in something that helps somebody who has no ability to return the favor. That’s a basic spiritual law.”
Friday morning, a crew of five Collegiate students and representatives from the RAMPS parent organization will travel to the Northern Henrico County home of a young girl named Autumn, who is wheelchair-bound and ventilator-dependent. With a couple of hours of work, they will provide a measure of freedom and accessibility for her and her family and allow them to regain some sense of normalcy.  

“You can see the reactions in people’s faces,” said Julia Mitchell, who serves as communications officer of the Collegiate RAMPS group. “They actually cry out of happiness because we’ve given them something they couldn’t accomplish on their own. The ramps we build are really changing their lives.”
         -- Weldon Bradshaw
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