Organizations, volunteers building ramp for wheelchair-bound girl

‘Brush with Kindness’

Norb Kolb directs Grace Fender as she pulls the broom across the concrete pad that will serve as the entry to the ramp under construction as her S. Country Club Drive home. Kolb is a volunteer helping to construct a ramp for Fender, who has spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair from very early childhood. The Lawson Elementary School fifth grade student will have surgery in July and after two months of extensive therapy, should be able to walk with the aid of a walker and eventually on her own.

Norb Kolb directs Grace Fender as she pulls the broom across the concrete pad that will serve as the entry to the ramp under construction as her S. Country Club Drive home. Kolb is a volunteer helping to construct a ramp for Fender, who has spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair from very early childhood. The Lawson Elementary School fifth grade student will have surgery in July and after two months of extensive therapy, should be able to walk with the aid of a walker and eventually on her own. Photo by Julie Smith.

River City Habitat for Humanity and Thrivent Financial are working together to make a family’s life easier and a 11-year-old girl capable to move through her home.

Volunteers and employees of both organizations sweat profusely while building a 47-foot wheelchair ramp in the Thursday afternoon sun. The project started at 8 a.m. and will take multiple days. The plan is to build the ramp around the side of the house and up to the deck in the backyard.

Andrea Fender and her daughter Grace watched the workers pour and smooth the concrete for the ramp as they conversed with members of both organizations. When the first segment was finished, Grace imprinted her hands into it.

“We are very thankful for them coming out and helping us,” Andrea said about the project. “We are having a big surgery coming up, and we are not able to lift her up our stairs. We have a split-level home, so we are building a ramp up to our deck so she can come in the main level of the house.”

Grace Fender is afflicted with spina bifida and has been in a wheelchair all of her life.

On construction day Thursday, Grace had braids in her hair, a smile on her face and a necklace of St. Padre Pio, the patron saint of healing. He is also the patron saint of civil defense volunteers and stress relief, according to catholic.org.

The crew is building 11 support posts for the ramp, these symbol the 11 surgeries that Grace has undergone. The next surgery is a quadruple osteotomy that will take months to heal. If it is a success, it will also straighten her legs and allow her to walk, her mother said.

“One post for every step of the way,” Andrea said. “It is going to be a lot of hard work, and she knows that.”

Grace agreed with her mom and then said she is excited to get it over with and hopefully be able to walk.

“It is a really a great illustration of how the community can come together and help,” said Kelly Smith, executive director with River City Habitat for Humanity. “Truthfully, this is exactly the kind of thing that keeps us going and keeps us motivated, because it’s a great family that has a need that we can address.”

Habitat for Humanity has been in Jefferson City for more than 20 years and is known for building homes for families in need. This project and partnership with Thrivent is through a Habitat program called a “Brush with Kindness.” The program helps families, who own their home, by completing critical home repair projects they cannot afford, Smith said.

“Everything with Habitat is a hand up not a hand out,” Smith said. “Our home owners pay a mortgage on their houses and our Brush with Kindness partners pay interest free monthly payment for the materials only. So they will have a interest-free loan on a five-year term just to pay for the materials.”

The labor and other cost are being provided by Thrivent through a grant that was filed by Smith and Tom Ittner, a financial representative with Thrivent. Ittner is a longtime supporter of Habitat and was instrumental in securing funding for the ramp, Smith said. Thrivent Financial is also sponsoring a Habitat home under construction at 3121 Moreau View.

“It is a good project; it is something that Thrivent strives to do throughout the country and throughout the world,” Ittner said. “We have been working with the River City Habitat for Humanity very closely for well over 10 or 11 years… We don’t have to pay federal income tax so we give money back to those people, those charities, those churches and those schools that are in need in our community.”

If anyone is interested in applying for a Brush with Kindness program project, they can do so through the River City Habitat for Humanity by calling 573-635-8439.

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