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Local Builders Win National Volunteer Award



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Local Builders Win National Volunteer Award

Newtown remodeler Peter McLoughlin, representing the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Fairfield County, and family support caseworker Donna Kennedy, representing Saint Vincent’s Special Services, accepted a $10,000 check from the Paul Newman Foundation, Newman’s Own, on April 4 as one of ten national award winners in the 2003 Make a Difference Day competition.

Sponsored by USA Weekend magazine and the Points of Light Foundation, the award recognizes outstanding volunteer efforts that “make a difference” in the lives of people in need.

“We were looking for a way we could make a difference in our community, and at the same time, Saint Vincent’s was looking for the resources to help their clients move freely in and out of their homes,” explained Peter McLoughlin, who is a member of the HBRA board of directors and chairman of its Remodelers Council.

Mr McLoughlin developed construction plans and recruited skilled builders from the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Fairfield County (HBRA).

More than 60 volunteers from the came together from HBRA on three successive Saturdays last October to build ramps at the homes of two Bridgeport families whose children depend upon wheelchairs for their mobility and independence. Volunteers included Newtown and Danbury area builder/remodelers Peter McLoughlin (CFR Construction), Neal and Steven Berko (Four Square Builders), David Adams (Design Builders & Remodeling Inc), Bob Eckinrode, Ray Ormsbee, Peter Schneider, and Brant Plancon.

The two families live in first floor apartments of older houses in Bridgeport that were not wheelchair accessible. One family has two boys, ages 8 and 9, and the second has a 15-year-old girl. All used heavy, electric wheelchairs that their parents could not get into the homes. Having to be carried into the house after school each day affected each child’s sense of dignity, and being without their chairs for mobility inside the home affected their independence as well.

When her ramp was completed, the mother of John and Onix Ortiz could not find enough ways to express her appreciation. “I’m so proud of them,” she said. “They are so happy. I am so happy. I don’t know how many thanks I can give.” She explained that the first day she was able to bring their wheelchairs into the house, they all baked a cake. “It was the first time they were able to move about the kitchen and we could do something together.”

Fifteen-year old Tiffany Johnson, who uses an augmentative communication aid, typed a thank you letter to the volunteer workers that said, “Thank you for building my ramp. I am in love with it! It is easier for me to go up the ramp than for someone to walk me up the stairs.”

The volunteers who built the ramps were deeply affected by the immediate impact of these two simple construction projects. “From the minute we pulled our trucks out of the driveway, those ramps made a huge difference in people’s lives,” said builder Bob Eckinrode. “It was a very emotional experience for me.”

The “Rampathon” and the nine other projects that mobilized volunteers to make a difference in their local communities were chosen from thousands of entries submitted nationwide. The ten national awardees will each receive $10,000 from Newman’s Own and were featured in the April 16–18 issue of USA Weekend, a supplement to a number of Connecticut daily newspapers.

St Vincent’s Special Needs and the Home Builders group will use their award money to continue their mission of creating greater physical accessibility to more individuals in Fairfield County. The two partners plan to make the rampathon or a similar remodeling project an annual event each October.

Addressing the housing needs of all people in Connecticut is a stated principle of HBRA’s mission. “Our partnership with St Vincent’s Special Needs and our project mission to improve physical accessibility for persons with disabilities is a perfect fit,” explained Mr McLoughlin.

“I would love to see this kind of a partnership replicated between agencies assisting persons with disabilities and builders’ associations all around the country. That would really make a difference,” he adds.

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