Texas Ramp Project removes barriers for people with mobility challenges


A few steps on the porch can turn an ordinary house into a prison for the roughly 1.6 million Texans who struggle to get around on their own. The mission of the Texas Ramp Project is to make life easier for these people, one Saturday morning at a time.

“What’s a real barrier is getting in and out of their homes when it comes to going up and down stairs,” says Lester Schmaltz, Harris County coordinator across the board. ‘State. “So what the ramp project does is it provides ramps such that these people can no longer be trapped in their own homes and get that mobility that they didn’t have. “

Founded in 2006, the organization grew out of the Dallas Ramp Project, whose volunteers have built 1,400 ramps across the Metroplex in 20 years. The Texas Ramp Project has built more than 14 times as many, for a total distance of over 100 miles. It’s Schmaltz’s job to sift through the referrals that come to him, largely from health care providers and social service agencies. Those who meet the criteria of physical and financial need are added to the queue: Schmaltz says his current backlog is “well over 100” cases.

The project received 4,200 referrals in 2020. But just as its project departments needed it most, the pandemic has crippled things. Volunteers, mostly seniors like Schmaltz, have found themselves squarely in the crosshairs of COVID. Financial support evaporated as grants dried up and corporate sponsors found more pressing demands on their purse strings. Worse, the price of wood has practically doubled.

Potential volunteers for the Texas Ramp Project constructions can register at texasramps.org.

It has come down a bit since then, but Schmaltz says the project tries to offset the rising costs by being pragmatic. For example, they could build three 25-foot ramps instead of a 75-foot yard.

“It’s just a fact of life, and something that you kind of have to do now,” he explains. “We aim to build more modestly, but we allow other criteria to prevail. If we have someone who is, say, on dialysis, it always raises their priority a little bit, so we try to reach them ASAP.

Before the pandemic, Schmaltz says his teams were building between four and six new ramps per month. As the coordinator, he visits the recipient, measures his homes and often designs the new ramp himself.

“Each of them is really a tailor-made, tailored situation,” he notes. He also orders all necessary materials and arranges deliveries with the supplier, usually Lowe’s or Home Depot. Currently, Schmaltz supervises three or four teams; he is always looking for more.

Now in his eighties, Schmaltz is a former engineer and COO of Exxon. He retired in 1997 and tried different types of volunteer work until about eight years ago, when a member of his church alerted him to the Texas Ramp Project. He still goes over the builds, lends a hand and watches the last recipient try out their new ramp, the team of volunteers cheer them on.

“Just seeing the smile on their face, sometimes tears in their eyes when they’re able to do it,” says Schmaltz, “is so satisfying and so joyful for us to see this reward for them – the satisfaction they have.”

Schmaltz remembers an 8-year-old boy struggling with a muscle disorder similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“He would get on all fours and crawl up and down so he could get in and out of his house,” he says. “Well, when we finished building the ramp for him, he was able to do it all himself, and he was just tickled pink so he could do it.” “

Chris Gray is a Houston-based writer.

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