Porterfield Memorial UMC's Ramp Builders help meet unknown need


In May 2010, Curt Poer was a healthy, active, soccer-playing 5 year old. By August, he was in a wheelchair.

Diagnosed with Leigh's Syndrome, a rare and severe neurological disorder that strikes one in 40,000 children, Curt had to use a wheelchair as he lost the ability to control and move his muscles.

As his condition worsened, his mother, Katherine Poer, had to carry him in and out of their home.

“We have five steps going up to our house and it was hard,” she said. “Even if you just have one step up into your house, you can’t get a wheelchair in there.”

Almost overnight, men from their church, Porterfield Memorial United Methodist Church in Albany, sprang into action and built Curt a ramp.

It was the first – and most difficult – wheelchair ramp built by the church’s Ramp Builders ministry.

In the past year and a half, the ministry has built 15 to 20 ramps for church members and their families.

Joe Brown, who helps lead the ministry, first learned of the need for wheelchair ramps from a friend and fellow church member whose husband had recently suffered a stroke.

Knowing that Brown is an amateur woodworker with a backyard workshop, she called to ask if he knew anyone who could build a ramp at their house. Her husband was being released from the hospital in two days and she knew she wouldn’t be able to get him into their home by herself.

From their conversation, Brown realized that wheelchair ramps are an often unknown need in congregations and communities.

“You don’t really think about (needing a ramp) until that need is there,” he said. “It’s something that’s totally off the radar.”

After his wife had spinal surgery, Brown realized that her access in and out of their home would be severely limited for a while. When she came home after being released from the hospital he and a neighbor were able to carry her inside, but that night Brown built a wheelchair ramp for his own home.

“(Wheelchair ramps are) just one of those things that’s needed that you don’t realize,” he said. “It just emphasized to me right then that you … just need to be a little bit incapacitated and not be able to do those steps to need a ramp.”

Upon learning of the need, Porterfield Memorial UMC’s United Methodist Men jumped on board and quickly learned the codes and regulations that must be adhered to when building a wheelchair ramp.

A core group of five to six men do the bulk of the Ramp Builders’ work, with others joining in as they are able.

Most of the Ramp Builders honed their carpentry skills while volunteering with the Exchange Club of Albany.

“When we first saw a ramp being built we knew we could build one without any trouble,” Brown said. “We add more supports than required and we try to make sure that if an elephant wanted to walk up the ramp he could without falling.”

A generous and grateful church member – Curt Poer’s grandfather – sells the Ramp Builders lumber at cost, which helps the ministry keep its expenses low. The cost per ramp is about $250, depending on how long it needs to be, but if someone can’t pay, the ministry picks up the tab and pays for the materials with donated funds.

The best payment, Brown said, is the joy he and the other men feel when serving.

“You get such a good feeling doing something for others. It’s been a total pleasure doing this,” he said. “The smile on their faces and the thank yous we get are enough to keep us going.”

Poer said that the entire church has surrounded her family with love and support.

“I grew up at Porterfield and now my son is, and we haven’t really had to worry about anything because of our church family.”

With the ramp and his motorized wheelchair, Curt has gotten back some of the mobility he had lost.

“He can get in and out of the house on his own, so he’s getting back the independence that was taken away really quickly,” she said. “It’s an awesome ministry that has helped lots of families.”