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Ramping up Hope

When it comes to building ramps, no one is too young.

Photo courtesy of Santa Rosas Press Gazette

Heather Keel was an active woman before the car accident left her in a wheelchair. She went through multiple surgeries before the doctors would even release her, but coming home meant a whole new mess of problems. First of all, she had stairs going up to her front door. She wouldn’t be able to get up those in a wheelchair.

Luckily, Heather lived in a small town, where news like that got around.

One Sunday, the local Methodist pastor prayed for her, and in the middle of the prayer, a young handyman perked up. He wasn’t big on talking, but the boy knew how to build things. If this woman needed a ramp, he would build her one. After the service, he gathered a few more men and women to help with the project, and by the end of the next Saturday, Heather had a brand new ramp leading up to her front door.

Not everyone who ends up in a wheelchair has a local church jump in to help them. Some people are forced to call government groups, Habitat for Humanity or even professional carpenters when they need a way to get into their homes. One fortunate community in Pace, Florida, even has Ray of Hope Wheelchair Ramp Ministry.

Ray of Hope

Jimmy Ray was a quiet man, one of those humble people who don’t like being the center of attention. Still, that stoic exterior was hiding a burning passion in his heart.

See, Jimmy loved people with disabilities. When he found out that some people were stuck inside their homes because they couldn’t afford to have a wheelchair ramp built, it moved him to action, and Ray of Hope Wheelchair Ramp Ministry was born. Jimmy’s wife and daughter helped him with the first few ramps, but soon his church caught on and jumped in to help. People from all walks of life volunteered to help build and donated materials.

It was Jimmy’s legacy, and while he headed up the ministry, the team built more than 500 ramps for people in Northwest Florida.

Even after his death on February 28, 2010, the ministry still continues. In May 2017, the group of volunteers who are carrying Jimmy’s vision on built a 60-foot-long ramp for a disabled veteran who has cancer and emphysema. Later that year, they built a ramp that allows people in wheelchairs to easily saddle up for a horseback ride.

Gary Lloyd, Jimmy’s son-in-law, recently published a book about Ray of Hope Ministries. Although he never got to meet his wife’s father, he learned a lot about the man through the research he did before writing it. He spoke with volunteers and several ramp recipients.

“Jimmy had a heart for the disabled, and this was a passion put into his heart by God,” Gary said. “Helping people who had nowhere else to turn was his mission from God. I asked each person who received a wheelchair ramp from this ministry their thoughts about Jimmy, a man none of them had the pleasure of meeting. They thanked and praised him. They said he was on a mission. They said they wished there were more people like him in this world.”

More Than Wood and Nails

The photos of Jimmy’s work show ramp after ramp built to withstand those Florida tropical storms that threaten the coastline town of Pace. These aren’t the standard particle-board and plywood ramps, though. They are built to meet Americans with Disability Act standards, meaning they will hold up with visitor after visitor, year after year.

All the work, all the time and all the dedication stem from Jimmy’s faith, centered on one of his favorite Bible verses: Galatians 6:10.

“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men.”

Doing good for Jimmy meant helping the wounded, hurt and disabled get back into their homes, and there’s no doubt he’s remembered every time they can easily get back into their homes.

“Ray of Hope” was published through CreateSpace Independent Publishing. The book is available on Amazon for $10 and on Kindle as an e-book for $7.99. All proceeds from the book’s sales will benefit the Ray of Hope nonprofit organization for continued wheelchair ramp builds.


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About the author

Jessie Harbin

Jessie is a newlywed living in Meridianville with her husband and three dogs. She's learning to sail on their 26-foot sailboat in Guntersville. At the time of publication, nobody has fallen ill because of her cooking.

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