• Submitted by Volunteer Eric Evans

Madison Rotary & Ability 1st Build 100th Access to Independence Project

Sunday, June 25, 2017, Madison, FL. Ability 1st, The Center for Independent Living of North Florida [CIL] (based in Tallahassee), in partnership from the Madison County Rotary Club volunteers, completed the agency's 100th accessibility project; with the completion of a set of accessible half-steps and a small landing just south of downtown Madison. This number of builds is at a level that no other CIL in Florida has been able to obtain, and is just a cornerstone principle that Ability 1st holds to be true – VOLUNTEERS GET THE JOB DONE!

The Access to Independence Program is Ability 1st flagship program (one of over a dozen) that has now surpassed the hundredth barrier three years running. The projects (home access ramps and accessible half steps) are built for low income persons with mobility challenges in the six-county service area (Madison, Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla, Gadsden, and Leon). This milestone comes right as the agency’s fiscal third quarter ends on June 30 (fiscal year from October 1 -- September 30). Previously, it has taken nearly all 12 fiscal months to break thru the 100 count barrier. Besides construction of accessibility ramps/half steps, the program provides loans of medical equipment for persons with both permanent and temporary disabilities; and provides disposable medical supplies like incontinence products, for low income consumers.

Sunday's project assisted Madison resident Curtis Alexander by providing an easier and safer means to enter or leave his home. Mr. Alexander has to use crutches to ambulate and before would have to balance on the concrete step to close the door before going down to ground level. Ability 1st and the Rotarians built a small 5 foot wide by 4 foot deep landing at the level of the door with handrails all around. "Now I won't be falling off the steps anymore," Mr. Curtis exclaimed. “Everybody should get one [steps and landing], to keep from falling,” he added.

The half steps themselves are exactly that -- steps having risers between 4 and 5 inches versus the traditional 7 - 8 inch steps common in the area. Accessible half steps have been very popular for those able to amble even when using canes, crutches or walkers. One consumer said that walking up or down the steps is like walking across the kitchen floor – very easy!

Sunday's volunteers from the Madison Rotary included: Wayne Conger (group organizer), Chad Arnold (Club President), Dale Stone, Jim Catron (City Commissioner, District 3), Steve Ersch, and Paul Rudloff. The group withstood the heat and humidity before getting a soaking from Sunday's afternoon storms.

A civic group must be able to do the "Sweat Equity" and that means getting out and serving the community, Commissioner Jim Catron offered. Wayne Conger, Group Organizer, added there's a reason why “Service Above Self” is one of the principle tenants of the Rotary Club. Rotarian Steve Ersch even proclaimed, “I don’t mind the rain, at least it’s cooling.”

Sunday's project was chosen to help Mr. Curtis maintain his independent living, a core idea behind every CIL. “Because he doesn’t always need a wheelchair and because his home would not accommodate a wheelchair, he is not an appropriate candidate for a ramp, but would greatly benefit from having shorter and more accessible steps with handrails on both sides,” said Access to Independence Program manager Kevin Ogden. “The other benefit with half steps is that we also build a small landing so the person has a level space to come out their door and close it safely before going down their steps, which puts persons with balance, mobility and/or vision problems at great risk of falling and severely injuring themselves,” Mr. Ogden provided.

“It is very fitting that this 100th project is being built by the Madison County Rotary Club, as they are our most active, valued and appreciated Access to Independence Program partner on our home access projects, within the Madison County service area,” said Dan Moore, Executive Director of Ability1st. "Having the Rotarians available to be on the ground swinging the hammers and building the projects has been a game changer for us [Ability 1st] in serving the community of Madison County," Kevin Ogden added. "We've gone from building one maybe two projects a year to doing six, on average, for the last three years, all because the Rotarians are really motivated."

In all six counties the need for the types of services that the Access program offers has increased exponentially. "Demand will always outstrip resources, especially as the population ages and more and more citizens require assistance," Mr. Ogden explained. "Without civic groups like the Madison Rotary, area churches, school clubs, businesses and others willing to step up to build better home access and provide the necessary financial support, then these same consumers, who need help so desperately, will have very limited choices to choose from," he added. "Which would you prefer a home with easier access or feeling trapped in a home that has become a prison while you live out your 'golden' days?"


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