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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
Lisa Oakes
Business Development Manager
Helping Neighbors in Need Is Incredibly Rewarding

A few weeks ago, I went to a stranger’s house and worked up a sweat digging a dirt path in her front yard. While that sounds far from glamorous, it’s actually one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. As a volunteer during the Center for Independent Living’s RAMPAGE event, I joined hundreds of others across Central Florida to build wheelchair ramps for people with disabilities.

My crew was made up of co-workers from R.C. Stevens Construction Co., along with other corporate teams. We built a ramp for a woman named Jeanette, one of 15 RAMPAGE recipients this year. Though we had never met her before, when we heard her story from CIL staff, we knew we wanted to help. A longtime volunteer at church and local nursing homes, Jeanette has suffered heart attacks and strokes that reduced her mobility – but not her spirit. In fact, she wanted to keep volunteering. But since she uses a wheelchair, she struggled to navigate the steps at her front door, and needed a safe way to come and go independently from her home.

Within a matter of hours, our crew built exactly that. After clearing a path in her yard, we constructed a wooden frame. Then, the next crew poured concrete to create a sturdy, permanent ramp. Everyone had a job to do – from experienced construction workers, to people who’d never picked up a hammer in their lives.

The work was tiring and messy, but when Jeanette came outside to introduce herself, we saw just how much the ramp meant to her. Through tears, she thanked us again and again for our time. Honestly, I wanted to thank her … because for all the ways to spend my Saturday morning, I can’t think of anything else that would feel so satisfying. Helping someone less fortunate, especially someone with a generous spirit like Jeanette, makes you grateful for what you have. I never realized before that being able to walk out your front door easily is a precious gift. Now, I’ll never forget.

What’s more, I really enjoyed rolling up my sleeves alongside my co-workers. We laughed together, got to know each other better and ultimately contributed to something bigger than ourselves. You might even say it was a bonding experience. And we’re already looking forward to our next volunteering project.

These days, we’re all busy. But spending a few hours to help our neighbors in need can be incredibly rewarding. April is National Volunteer Month – a great time to get involved. If you’re looking for a place to start, you can contact the Center for Independent Living, which provides a wide range of services to empower people with disabilities. Call 407-623-1070 or visit www.cilorlando.org. Or visit Heart of Florida United Way’s Volunteer Resource Center at www.hfuw.org for more opportunities in Central Florida. It doesn’t take much to help improve someone else’s life – and you might be surprised at the difference it makes in yours.

Lisa Oakes is a business development manager at R.C. Stevens Construction Co. in Winter Garden. She can be reached at [email protected].

© Florida Voices

Published Tuesday, April 30, 2013