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VISTA builds ramps, freedom for disabled

PALMETTO — Yolanda Rios no longer has to worry about how she is going to get her wheelchair-bound son out of the house.

A brand new, state-of-the art ramp provides easy access from front door to the street.

The ramp was built over Memorial Day weekend through a volunteer effort coordinated by Alan Gedeon, one of more than two dozen AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers serving Manatee County in partnership with the Suncoast Center for Independent Living.

The ramp is a dream come true for Rios, who contacted the Sarasota-based resource center for the disabled in February for help with her son.

The ramp means freedom for Christopher Rios, age 5.

“That’s what the Suncoast Center is all about,” said Alexis Martin, the agency’s finance director, who partners with Gedeon on the Six Ramps Six Days Project. Funded through a $5,000 state grant, the Six Ramps project serves low-income families who do not qualify for any other ramp-building programs sponsored by local government or the Veteran’s Administration, Martin said.

“The county-funded program builds ramps only for adults, so it could not help the Rios family,” Martin said. “The Six Ramps funding was the answer.”

The ramps are part of the Volunteer Florida “6 Ramps/6 Days” program that has been widely successful throughout the state of Florida for two years.

The goal is to use the state grant to build six ramps in six days, but not necessarily consecutive days,” Martin said. She credits Gedeon for getting the program started.

“This was Al’s idea,” Martin said. “He came to us last year and asked if we were willing to partner with him to get the grant. Over the past two years, some 15 ramps, involving over 100 volunteers have been built throughout the two counties.”

Volunteers from Peace Lutheran Church, fellow VISTA volunteers and staff from SunCoast Center built the Rios ramp in one day.

By getting local businesses to donate materials, Gedeon has been able to stretch the funding to build more ramps.

“We are very grateful for Alan’s efforts,” Martin said. “He has been getting volunteers from everywhere and they are experienced carpenters and builders. ”

And more ramps are needed.

“We usually have 10 to 15 people on our wait list for ramps,” Martin said.

“These are people who have no other options. They are people in electric wheelchairs who cannot get out of their homes without assistance.”

With the hurricane season beginning June 1, the ramps become more imporant than ever in case of evacuation, Martin said.

For more information on the ramp program or to volunteer, contact Alan Gedeon at 782-7021 or send an email to alan.gedeon@my manatee.com.

For more information on SunCoast Center for Independent Living or to apply for a ramp, call (941) 351-9545 or visit www.scil4u.org.

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