By Keith Gushard
“This is the new beginning for us,” Twila Mack said Saturday, trying to hold back tears as she watched volunteers from Make A Difference Day build a wheelchair access ramp she can use to help get her husband in and out of their Penn Street home more easily.
“We’re so grateful for this — it’s been such a struggle to get him in and out of the house just to go to the doctor,” she said softly while wiping tears eyes.
Four years ago, Mack’s husband, Homer, was diagnosed with sarcoidosis — a disease that attacks organs within the body.
Sarcoidosis is a disease of unknown cause that leads to inflammation and affects a body’s organs, according to the federal National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website. Sarcoidosis leads to organ damage in about one-third of the people diagnosed with it, the website said. Damage may occur over many years and involve more than one organ.
The disease often affects the eyes and liver, and although less common, sarcoidosis can affect the heart and brain, leading to serious complications, according to the website.
Twila Mack said her husband has had the disease spread to his brain, first costing him his eyesight and then the ability to walk.
Getting the wheelchair-bound Homer out the front door, down the four steps from the front porch to the sidewalk and then to the car has been almost insurmountable at times, Mrs. Mack said.
She heard about the Make A Difference Day program from her landlord, Don Erdley, who was willing to buy all the materials necessary for the ramp, if volunteers would assemble it.
“It’s really a godsend. I can’t stress enough how grateful we are,” she said of the ramp and the volunteers who made it happen. “I’ll be able to get him out of the house and give him some mobility back.”
More than a dozen volunteers from area Kiwanis service clubs, Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Allegheny College, and Meadville Medical Center built the wheelchair access ramp Saturday — one of more than 110 Make A Difference Day projects around central and western Crawford County.
Make A Difference Day, an annual day of volunteer community service to help those in need, is coordinated through the United Way of Western Crawford County. Projects ranged from things like constructing wheelchair ramps to smaller projects like leaf raking and painting for those who are unable to do the work themselves.
“It’s really a nice project,” Dave Miller, a Kiwanis Club volunteer, said during a break on working on the ramp for the Macks. “The man hasn’t been able to get out of his house.”
Miller, who has volunteered on a number of Make A Difference Day ramp projects, said it’s gratifying to be involved in completing projects that are have a long-lasting effect.
“When you go by a place, see the ramp there and helping someone, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “It’s good to give back to the community.”
Brandon Henshaw of Butler, a junior at Allegheny and a member of Delta Tau Delta who worked on the ramp project, agreed with Miller’s assessment.
“It’s important for Allegheny College students to be involved in the community and interact with the local people,” said Henshaw, who also has volunteered at the YMCA and works as a tutor. “We’re not two separate communities — the college and Meadville are part of one community.”
Another project involved multiple improvements to the Eldred Glen baseball field at the Meadville Area Recreation Complex.
Members of the Meadville Area Senior High School baseball team and Allegheny College’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity made repairs to the pitching mound and homeplate areas, cleaned up the indoor practice area, fixed the outfield fence and bullpen areas, painted storage sheds and did other work.
“We need a lot of maintenance,” said Mary Grill, president of the MASH Baseball Boosters. “We have to do it ourselves. The kids are great.”
“We try to do what we can,” added Dana Scheppelmann, the team’s coach. “Our boosters are outstanding in helping us.”
Brandon Buchanan of Mercer and Kevin Dieterle of Baldwin, both sophomores at Allegheny and members of Phi Kappa Psi, helped to paint one of the storage sheds.
“It’s fun and you feel good about yourself helping others,” Dieterle said.
“You’re starting your day off right,” Buchanan added. “You’re reaching out to others.”
Though rain hit the county late Saturday morning, Amy Rectenwald, executive director of the United Way of Western Crawford County, said more than 90 percent of the projects were completed before the weather turned sour.
“It’s a huge credit to the guys who were working on things like the ramp projects — they just kept going in the rain,” she said. “With all those that got postponed — the roof projects — the volunteers made arrangements with the homeowners to go back. Even the students said they’d be going back.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you know?
Make A Difference Day on Saturday attracted more than 850 volunteers who worked on in excess of 110 projects community service in central and western Crawford County.