MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Wash. -- Countless disabled people in our community live their lives trapped inside their own homes. Access to the outside world can be difficult and expensive. But freedom can be as close as a friendly neighbor.
Take Jerry Otis, who knows all about hard work. At 67-years-old, the retired woodworker is a man of steel.
"What else would I do? Sit at home and go nuts?" said Jerry.
No sitting around for him. He's getting people moving by building wheelchair ramps for people who who can't afford them.
"These folks, if they can't get out of the house, that's not a life," he said.
It's tough work for someone half his age, but worth every ache and pain.
"To be able to allow somebody to get in a car and go down to the store, or to church or even to the library," he said. "Something simple...it means so much."
And Jerry should know. Among the most important tools he uses are his crutches. Jerry is disabled, too. A surgery 26 years ago left him paralyzed on his left side, but that doesn't affect his attitude.
"Well, I grew up in Winthrop, Washington, and my mom taught me not to use four-letter words. So, I decided 'can't' was a four-letter word and I wasn't gonna use it," he said.
Nine years ago Jerry founded R.A.M.P. or "Regional Access Mobility Program." Since then, he's built 240 wheelchair ramps all across Western Washington, including the one at Keri Pace's house. Pace is opening her home to a disabled friend who's having a hard time living on his own. She says the ramp literally means the world to him.
"I was pretty amazed," Pace said. "Freedom to do what he wants to do and live how he wants to live."
Jerry is the first to say he doesn't do it alone. He enlists a small army of volunteers to get the jobs done. He recently built a ramp for a woman who hadn't been outside on her own on four months.
"She sat at the bottom of the ramp in her wheelchair, folded her arms and said, 'This is nice.' 'Nuff said. And that's what it's all about," said Jerry.
It's also about simple dignity -- not just for the hundreds of people Jerry has helped -- but for the man himself who was told he'd never work or even walk again 26 years ago.
"At least this person with a disability is going to do whatever he wants to do," said Jerry. "And you better get out of the road or you're gonna get run over!"
Jerry and his volunteers build the ramps for the cost of materials that are provided at a discount by BMC Construction. To help Jerry and R.A.M.P, click on these links:
- Puget Sound Labor Association - www.pslaonline.org/index.cfm
- Carpenters Union - www.carpenters131.org
You can also email Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you know someone who's making a difference in your community? We'd like to hear your stories about people going above and beyond to help others. Just email us at email@example.com.