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Rotary Club of Rockdale aims to make homes accessible for the disabled

Rockdale Rotary Club President David Cooper and Past President Margie Ensley celebrate the completion of the ramp into Mercy Heart Clinic.

Rockdale Rotary Club President David Cooper and Past President Margie Ensley celebrate the completion of the ramp into Mercy Heart Clinic.

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Rockdale Rotary Club members, from left, John Dare and Dan Moore work on constructing a ramp for the disabled, located outside of the Mercy Heart Clinic in Conyers.

Giving disabled people the freedom to get outside the four walls of their home is what the latest effort is all about for the Rotary Club of Rockdale County. The club has launched its Handicap Ramp Project and 24 club volunteers recently completed the first ramp of what they hope will be one of many in Rockdale County. The ramps are designed to help veterans, disabled public service workers, the elderly and any others in need of such assistance.

"We can walk out of our homes like it's nothing," said Rotary Club of Rockdale County President David Cooper.

"I cannot fathom what it would be like to be stuck inside ... (This will) give someone liberty from the walls of their house because otherwise they couldn't get out unless they had help. Even if it's just rolling out into the yard and smelling the flowers and enjoying some fresh air -- just having that freedom again for them -- that meant something to us."

Cooper said his club was inspired by the work of the Rotary Club of Madison County and its member and designated ramp expert Roy Gandy, who has led his Rotary Club team to complete almost 500 ramps.

About 15 years ago, with summertime temperatures hitting 100 degrees, Gandy delivered an air conditioner to a polio survivor in his community. As he was leaving, he saw the man crawl across the yard to get to his truck. Realizing the man had no other way to leave his home without a wheelchair ramp, Gandy was moved to come back a week later and build the man a handicap ramp.

Gandy said many elderly and disabled people are simply isolated in their homes with no way to get out. Even if they have a spouse, they too are often elderly or not strong enough to help their loved one get outside.

Gandy coached the Rockdale club with this first ramp project, which included building a ramp and a sidewalk for Mercy Heart Clinic in Conyers. The clinic, which operates entirely on donations from the community, helps Rockdale residents who are uninsured and below the poverty level. The clinic helped 271 patients just this past quarter.

"They've been needing this for a couple of years," Cooper said, adding that Darlene Hotchkiss, who is on the board of directors for Mercy Heart Clinic and is also a Rotarian, spoke to her club about the need for a ramp and a sidewalk at the local clinic.

Cooper said Jason Hill with Still Lumber Co. in Conyers sold the club the materials needed for this first ramp at a "deep discount." Part of the need at Mercy Heart Clinic was that there was no sidewalk from the back of the clinic to the front.

"It was less expensive to have the concrete poured, so our club paid to have that done," Cooper said. "Tony Dowdy, one of our members, works for Ernest Concrete and he made it happen. Then we were able to build a ramp down to the sidewalk."

Cooper said patients and staff at the Mercy Heart Clinic were thrilled and grateful to the Rotary Club and he and other Rotarians want the community to know the club is here to help.

"Most of us in the club are interested in getting into our community and looking for things where we not only spend money, but where we put our hands on it," Cooper said.

After learning about the work done by the Rotary Club of Madison County, Cooper said he and his fellow club members were excited because they realized this would be the kind of project that would make a difference for many area residents. They read comments from people who had received ramps from the Madison club and Cooper said their words were inspiring.

"(The ramp project) brought a lot of joy to the folks in their area and we want to do the same," he said. "We're going to see what the need is and if it's overwhelming, I'm confident the Rotarians and the people in this community will rise to it."

Cooper, who has been a member of the Rotary Club for six years and his wife, Cheryl, who is also a member, started their own business in Rockdale County, Premier Platforms in 1994. He said he got involved with the Rotary Club of Rockdale County because he wanted to be a part of a group that makes a difference in the community.

"You're associated with others in the community who know how to get things done," he said. "They're involved. They're not the ones who sit on the sidelines. I wanted to be a part of that."

He said projects, such as the Handicap Ramp Project, are "very fulfilling."

"Rotary International is all about building peace and understanding in this world," Cooper said. "We're all about doing our small part here in Rockdale County."

The club recently got approval to build its second ramp for a resident in the community. Others who are in need of such help are invited to send a letter to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County, at P.O. Box 80392, Conyers, Ga. 30013.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.