Operation Round Up: Servants at Work is Bringing Freedom to Clients in Need
“Changing Lives, One Ramp at a Time.”
That’s the motto on the Servants at Work (SAWs) website, and they live by it. Laura Belko, the program development manager at SAWs sat down with us to talk about the great work these ramps are doing for our community, and how Operation Round Up is helping. If you’re interested in contributing to the freedom and accessibility of their ramp project, donate to KREMC’s SAWs fundraiser for a local member’s ramp!
KREMC Interviewer: Your Operation Round Up grant was used to build two ramps in the Kosciusko County area. Can you elaborate on the need for volunteer-built ramps in this community?
Laura Belko: We try to help applicants as quickly as possible because when people apply, it’s usually after some major health challenges, and there’s an urgent need. Sometimes it’s a gradual increase in difficulties, and sometimes, it’s a long-term or permanent mobility issue. It may be someone using a walker or just someone vulnerable to slipping on the stairs.
The ability to go outside independently can greatly impact someone’s quality of life. It’s something we take for granted – we’re able to enter and exit our homes whenever we want. Can you imagine having to ask someone, “Hey, can you help me go outside?” Sometimes they can’t make doctor’s appointments, maintain their home and yard, or even go out to get the mail. Having an ADA-compliant, safe ramp that’s built for their homes and their abilities can change someone’s life.
We have small crews of volunteers all throughout Indiana that go out and build those ramps. It’s great because our volunteers get to be there and interact with the clients, and they get to immediately see the impact in just a few hours of volunteering.
KREMC Interviewer: How did the Operation Round Up grant specifically contribute to this need?
LB: With this grant, we were able to fill two ramps this year. One was an elderly woman. She was living at home with her dog and having trouble going to doctor’s appointments because she had to schedule them when friends or family members were available to help her. That was the only time she was getting out of her home.
The other was a woman who was experiencing multiple health challenges, and the stairs she had in place at the time were not working for her. She couldn’t get out of the house independently, and her husband, who was her caregiver, was struggling to help her with this. The ramp has completely changed that and now they’re able to get out into the community.
KREMC Interviewer: What is the community’s response to this project?
LB: We get incredible responses from our clients. We ask them if they feel safe leaving their house in the event of an emergency, and the percentage increase is overwhelming after they receive a ramp. Last year, we had a client whose house caught on fire sometime after we built her a ramp. She was able to get out of the house because we built that ramp. The need is overwhelming, and it affects much more than just the client. We’ve had clients able to attend church services for the first time in years.
Check out SAWs’ infographic report.
Something else we’ve learned is that our work impacts emergency services. Often, when the clients need to get out of the house for a medical reason, they’ll call emergency services, and an ambulance will come out. It’s a strain on the community emergency services if they’re having to repeatedly go back to the client’s home to help them exit their house if there’s no caregiver available. The ramp helps relieve that, so we’ve been trying to learn more about it.
KREMC Interviewer: You seem to stay connected to your clients quite a while after their ramp has been completed. What does that connection look like?
LB: Usually, they’re just really excited about the ramp! They’ll comment on our social media and send us cards. We have a bulletin board full of thank-you notes, which we share with the volunteers that participated. We reach out to the clients a few times after the ramp has been built to follow up and make sure everything is going well with the ramp. The volunteers also follow up with the clients to tell them they can make adjustments or repairs as needed in the future.
KREMC Interviewer: How does SAWs resonate with KREMC’s member-owned mission?
LB: There’s a parallel between us. We’re “boots on the ground” in the communities, identifying and taking care of immediate needs. KREMC does the same thing. We both see quality of life not as a luxury, but as a necessity.
KREMC members donating small amounts of their electric bill has really changed people’s lives. That’s a gift, even if it’s not that intentional, to change someone’s life, and it could be a neighbor or a grandparent. We’re grateful for the opportunity to serve the community that people are donating from.
KREMC Interviewer: What’s next for the community ramp project?
LB: Every year, we get more and more requests for ramps, so we’re always looking for new organizations to partner with, new volunteers, new sponsorships, and new fundraising opportunities. To continue to grow, we need to continue to reach people.
We’re in about 75% of the counties in Indiana, and I think we can continue to expand, but it’s difficult to get the resources out to rural areas. That doesn’t mean the need isn’t there; it just might be more difficult to service those clients. We’re still trying to work with churches because they’re often the first points of contact with new clients.
We’re a faith-based organization, founded about 20 years ago in a church parking lot. Our faith is the motivating factor behind the service, but that has no bearing on whom we serve.
KREMC Interviewer: How can the Kosciusko County community help SAWs the most right now?
LB: They can donate. If you’re a member of a volunteer organization, you can connect with us so we can get you started with a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign to build a ramp. Or they can just join us on a build! Newbies are always welcome, and no experience is necessary. The volunteer leadership is kind and excited, and they want people to feel welcome. Anybody can come out on a Saturday to build a ramp and change someone’s life.
Kosciusko REMC is raising funds for a KREMC member’s ramp, built through SAWs. If you’re interested in donating to the fundraiser, we’ll match your amount! Whatever you give will double, bringing us closer to reaching the amount we need to build this ramp. You can also volunteer to go on the build for our ramp fundraiser. Check out the SAWs Kosciusko REMC fundraiser here.