(Written September 2013)
Two University students are volunteering their weekends to construct a wheelchair ramp for one Lawrence family, but they’re getting back just as much as they’re putting in.
Taylor Monsees, a fourth year architecture student from Overland Park, and Matt Reilley, a third year Aerospace Engineering major from Overland Park, have spent every Saturday for the last month volunteering at Henry and Mary Perkins’ mobile home in east Lawrence.
Monsees was given the project by Freedom by Design, a program in the American Institute of Architecture for Students that focuses on providing better living conditions for low-income and disabled individuals.
After receiving the project, it was up to Monsees to win the bid for the job from the city and secure more funding for construction, which he says provided him with a more fulfilling experience than his architecture classes.
“We’re actually getting real world experience here,” Monsees said. “With studio, you’re in a classroom setting and you don’t really gain experience working with a client. I would rather be doing this than building big foil buildings. There’s just a better sense of giving back with this.”
Prior to the construction of the ramp, the Perkins’ mobile home was not handicap accessible. Mary suffers from multiple sclerosis and Henry is diabetic and will soon be wheelchair bound, and their home also houses their son and daughter as well as their seven year-old granddaughter. Monsees says one of the most rewarding aspects of the project is being able to help out a good family in need.
“I feel bad that they’re living in the situation that they are,” he said. “He’s helping raise his grandkid and he’s doing a lot for his family, so it’s nice to be able to do something for him too.”
Monsees and Reilley have not been completely on their own in building the ramp, however. Curtis Calkins, a recent architecture graduate, has assisted with the project. The city of Lawrence awarded a grant for the construction and Independence Inc., a local organization that provides assistance for the disabled, provided resources as well.
Monsees and Reilley have gotten help from surrounding residents in the mobile home community too. A neighbor who is a concrete finisher has offered to help finish the sidewalk of the ramp, the Perkins’ have made their tool shed available for the boys to use and the young neighborhood girls who Reilley calls their “cheerleaders” even come dance to their music while they work.
Reilly says this kind of encouragement and response from the community has made the construction much more enjoyable.
“Everyone has been so friendly and so nice, it’s just great to work around positive energy. ” he said. “Watching [Henry] come out and you see his face light up, and he’s always telling us we’re doing a good job and offering help, that’s great.”
The boys plan to have construction completed by next weekend, and Mary Perkins says the hours they’ve spent volunteering to help her family has reaffirmed her optimism in the community.
“I always believe there’s more good people than bad in the world, and this is proof of it,” Perkins said. “I know they’re working hard out there in the heat, but when it’s done they can have a really good feeling about what they’ve done for our family, and when you do something good for others you will never regret it.”