UMass fraternity, Stavros build wheelchair ramp for elderly woman
Maria Santana, left, and Maria Arroyo were the beneficiaries of a Stavros project that provided an accessibility ramp to Arroyo's home in Easthampton, allowing her to continue living independently. The ramp was built by UMass student volunteers. Purchase photo reprints »
UMass Fraternith members built a ramp at the home of Maria Santana, left, and Maria Arroyo, right, of Easthampton. Purchase photo reprints »
EASTHAMPTON — Ask most people what frat boys are doing on a Saturday, and the answer is likely to be partying.
But on a sunny Saturday earlier this month, about 25 members of the University of Massachusetts Amherst chapter of Phi Kappa Phi spent the day putting hammer to nail to build a ramp that has allowed an 87-year-old Easthampton resident who was previously homebound to get in and out.
The fraternity was one of four community organizations involved in building the ramp for Maria Arroyo, who moved to 136 Parsons St. at the beginning of November to live with her daughter, Maria Santana.
Arroyo gets around with a walker or wheelchair, so she needed a ramp to get in and out of the house, her daughter said. “I was worried,” Santana recalled. “I really didn’t have the money to do it.”
But the house now features a gently sloping wooden ramp that allows Arroyo to go to the store and other places, Santana said. It is due to the efforts of a handful of community groups and programs, including Phi Kappa Phi and Stavros, a Pioneer Valley nonprofit based in Amherst that helps people with disabilities lead full lives. Through its Home Sweet Home Program, Stavros installs ramps so people can stay in their homes, instead of moving to assisted-living facilities.
After Arroyo had a bad fall in her previous home in Florida, Santana said the family decided that Arroyo would have to move in with her to avoid going to a nursing home.
But with her mother’s limited mobility, Santana knew they would need a ramp. That’s when her daughter, Ruth Santana, discovered Stavros’ website while doing Internet research, and helped her mother apply for a ramp.
“I was so happy and excited,” Santana said. “My mom really needs this and she needs to be here so I can take care of her.”
Although the organization can install ramps for about half of what most contractors would charge because it gets discounts on materials and labor, homeowners must find ways to cover some of the costs, said Lois Brown, the program’s director.
In this case, the ramp would cost about $1,500 to build. The UMass chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, in addition to donating time to build the ramp, donated approximately $700 to pay for materials.
Stavros employees helped Santana apply to other funding sources to cover the family’s portion of the construction costs. Highland Valley Elder Services chipped in $500 and the Easthampton Council on Aging’s Emergency Relief Fund provided another $250 to cover the cost of the licensed contractor to oversee the project, Brown said.
All Arroyo and Santana had to pay for was the coffee and pizza for the fraternity volunteers, Brown said.
“It all happens because of cooperation, collaboration and good spirit,” she said.
“It’s perfect,” Santana said Nov. 12, two days after the young men of Phi Kappa Phi added the ramp to her home of 15 years.“They were really nice, really good kids — they even helped me with the leaves.”
Brown said Stavros gave the fraternity an Access Award for assisting people with disabilities to continue living in their homes despite injuries or old age. She said the group builds about two ramps each year under the direction of builder Nathaniel Bruursema. “They do it with such spirit, it’s fun to watch,” she said.
“It flips the standard of what the public thinks of fraternities,” she said. “They’re wonderful, warm young men.”
David Barnstone, who heads the UMass fraternity’s community service work, said the chapter has been building ramps since it formed seven years ago.
“It’s the most rewarding thing for us,” he said, describing watching the recipient walk or wheel up and down the finished ramp at the end of the construction day. “It’s something most of us take for granted.”
They donate their time and materials through Phi Kappa Phi’s national nonprofit, Push America, that seeks to change the way society views people with disabilities, as well as fraternities.
Barnstone acknowledges that fraternities in general have a bit of an image problem.
“You hear, ‘this many were arrested’ or ‘these people got in a fight,’ ” he said. “But Phi Kappa Phi is always trying to show the community that we’re not like that.”
Push America reimburses the UMass chapter up to $1,000 for materials for the ramp building, and the members donate their time, he said. “Whether we’re building a ramp or fundraising, we try to show people that we’re a good group of guys that wants to help out,” he said.
Brown said Stavros builds about 54 ramps each year. “The number of requests we get far exceeds what we can build,” she said. “There’s an unbelievable need, because no insurance pays for a ramp to be built.”
Making sure people can stay in their homes is the nonprofit’s “number one goal,” she said, but trying to fund the requests for ramps is not easy. The nonprofit applies for grants and raises funds, but is always looking for donations of money, supplies and builders’ time to keep building ramps. “That’s why this fraternity has been incredible for us,” Brown said.
After using her new ramp for the first time, Arroyo agreed.
“They were very nice boys and good workers,” she said. “It’s perfect. I’m happy, very happy.”
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.