Every Thursday morning, a group of men—retired pilots, school teachers, construction workers and firefighters—meet up to accomplish one very important job. The group of 12 volunteers builds a wheelchair ramp for a homeowner who might not have been able to leave his or her home without it.
The group of men, ages ranging from late 50s through 80s, has volunteered one morning a week for 14 years and has traveled around central Oklahoma, building ramps and changing one life at a time.
All the men have stories that have stayed with them. For John Soos, 69, of Chickasha, he’ll never forget an Oklahoma City woman who had no way to safely leave her home until a wheelchair ramp was constructed.
“We were coming out with a ramp and a lady came out and said, ‘You all don’t know, you’re giving me my freedom,’” he said.
Rebuilding Together OKC
The team works in coordination with Rebuilding Together OKC, a non-profit that makes home improvements, free of charge, for elderly, low-income homeowners. The group’s numbers fluctuate from project to project, but roughly a dozen men donate their time and skills every week.
Given the moniker “The A-Team” by Rebuilding Together OKC’s program manager, Tim Reardon, the group operates like clockwork. Each of the team members has a specific task and can knock out a project in a few hours. With that kind of efficiency, it’s easy to see how they’ve assembled 40-45 ramps a year.
“We’ve done so many of them, we’ve just got it down,” said Henry Pederson, 78, of Oklahoma City. Pederson serves as the team organizer, notifying members of each week’s project location and details. Pederson stood by, surveying his team members’ work at a recent ramp-building. Analyzing the progress, he said, “We’ll make short order of this. Probably about two and a half hours and this will be done—and that includes pouring the concrete.” It was nearing 8:30am and the group had been working for just 30 minutes.
With the number of elderly homeowners rising, and with the need for home improvements ever-growing, the ramp team is a huge asset to the non-profit organization, said Jennifer Thurman, Rebuilding Together OKC executive director.
Everybody has a story
Rebuilding Together OKC as well as the A-Team have seen homeowners forgo home insurance and push home repairs to the back burner because other matters like food and medicine are more important.
“They did what they could,” Pederson said. “They did what they had to do.”
Soos first learned of the ramp team through Pederson, who had called him for help with a ramp. And from there, it wasn’t difficult to enlist him in the A-Team.
“I went to one to see what they were doing, and I was hooked,” said Soos, a retired deputy chief from the Oklahoma City Fire Department. Soos takes construction and plumbing jobs on his days off and enjoys employing those skills by building ramps each week, while also giving to those in need. “It’s just a blessing to be able to help people,” he said.
Soos appreciates his team members’ efficiency when it comes to knowing their roles for the day and getting the job done. It’s a work ethic he’s grown accustomed to with his fire crew.
“When you go to a fire scene, you don’t have someone saying ‘Henry, do this’ and ‘John, do that,’” he said. “Everybody knows what has to be done and they do it.”
Forming the A-Team
The team’s eldest member and founder, Dan Cooper, 80, has seen the group grow in its 14 years. Cooper, who co-owned Cooper Medical Buildings, hadn’t known when he built his first ramp for Rebuilding Together OKC that he would soon be joined by men from across Oklahoma City who wanted to donate their time and skills.
“Before we got that first one finished, they had another one for us to do, so we just have been building them ever since,” Cooper said.
Through those years, not only have more volunteers jumped on board, but more corporations have supported the ramp team with donations of a trailer, tools and supplies. All lumber comes from Forest Building Materials, which precuts and treats all the treads, and the men use tools donated by Lowe’s, Home Depot and Bosch.
The men continue to rewrite a chapter of one person’s story each week, and it’s that thought of affecting one life at a time that keeps them coming back each Thursday morning.
It’s quite rewarding—just to do a little bit of good,” Pederson said. “And I tell you, it’s amazing the people we do these ramps for, how appreciative they are for the ability to get out of their homes.”
Visit rebuildingtogetherokc.org to learn more about the A-Team and Rebuilding Together OKC.