Louisiana UMVIM's "Taking' it  to the Streets  2000"

By Joshua Lewis

Allen Wilbur had an old ramp he could negotiate with his wheelchair to get out of his New Orleans home, but there was a problem. "I could get down, but I couldn't get back up," Wilbur said. He could manage it if he got on his electric scooter, but even that was a task. Now Wilbur, who lost his left leg in 1994 from complications related to a stroke, won't have to wrangle with the defective ramp any longer.

As he talked, volunteers from First UMC, New Iberia, were building him a new ramp as part of the third annual "Takin' It to the Streets 2000," sponsored by Louisiana Conference Volunteers in Mission (VIM). Nearly 200 volunteers turned out for the event March 17-19, which this year was a special joint project with St. Mark's Community Center and the City of New Orleans.

Wilbur wasn't the worst off among people needing ramps - many didn't have them at all. Steady rains most of that Saturday didn't deter crews that set out to construct 27 ramps for the elderly and others with low to moderate incomes, said United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) Director Larry Norman.

The office of New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial supplied $20,000 in funding to buy lumber and other supplies for the effort, which was part of the city's federally funded Division of Housing and Neighborhood Development. Morial and members of his staff visited one of the homes where volunteers were building a ramp. His executive assistant, Vincent Sylvain, estimated that $20,000 in materials was transformed into work worth some $200,000 had contractors been hired. "The impact of volunteer groups like this is just tremendous," said Glenis Scott, another mayoral assistant.

Money for the event came through St. Mark's ongoing relationship with the mayor's office, which provides grant money for the community center's Emergency Home Repair Program.

At the Saturday morning worship service before teams set out for their sites, Norman consecrated "church kits" for each group to bring to celebrate communion with the residents that Sunday afternoon, once the work was done. The kits also included a devotional by Bishop Dan Solomon, as well as a "ramp blessing" derived from the Passover tradition - a plaque to be affixed to the completed ramp reading, "To God be the glory."

''On a practical and symbolic level, the ramps and the building of them are about relationships," Norman said. Construction of the ramps is an open door for the church to be a part of people's lives, he said. "It also enables them to leave their homes to be a part of the church. Ramps go both ways," he said.

Volunteer Rev. Lloyd Scott, pastor of Golden Meadow UMC, brought his confirmation class to help out for the weekend. The youth have fun and are able to do a good thing, he said. "There isn't a community in the state that doesn't have these kinds of needs."

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