While most students spend spring break catching up on sleep and their favorite TV shows, six Nucla High School (NHS) students woke up early Tuesday morning and set out to build a much-needed wheelchair ramp for a local Nucla resident through Tri-County Health Network’s (TCHNetwork) Bridging Generations Project. The students learned how to measure out and cut wood with a circular saw, plan out appropriate spacing between support beams, determine how much concrete is needed to secure the posts in place, secure posts together with the proper length screws, determine the angle of the ramp, and much more. When asked what their motivation for volunteering was, the students all agreed they felt passionate about the cause, and wanted to give back to the community and neighbors they love. Cheyenne Joseph said she volunteered “to give back to those in need, and it’s also really fun to learn about the process such as the different wood cuts that go into constructing a ramp.”  Her classmate, Caitlyn Littlejohn, agreed, adding, “I’m learning a lot about the construction process and how to work together as a team to help others.”

NHS has supported the project every step of the way.  According to NHS principal Clint Wytulka, “We want to give students unique opportunities to learn.  Collaborating with local businesses and nonprofits to give students real-life experiences and a chance to give back is a priority for us.”  He continued by saying, “Some students learn from textbooks, and others learn kinesthetically, such as by finding the horizontal displacement necessary for a ramp to be built with angles that are up to code.” For those reasons, NHS is giving classroom credit to the student volunteers—credit that can go towards a variety of subjects.

Len Spina, a retired Engineering Department Manager in the Aerospace industry and active member of the West End Public Schools Board of Directors, graciously donated his time, effort, and tools to play a critical role in the building of this ramp. He started volunteering months ago, taking measurements at the wheelchair ramp recipient’s home and creating the complicated blueprint for the ramp.  He picked up the supplies donated to TCHNetwork from Home Depot stores in Grand Junction and Montrose, and offered up his home to be the initial construction site.  In addition, he shared his knowledge of woodworking and his drive to give back to his community to the Nucla High School volunteers.

The project was initially started in response to a TCHNetwork employee’s concern for individuals she knew in the West End in dire need of wheelchair ramps that were unable to attain them due to financial limitations (each ramp costs upwards of $1,500 for just the supplies).  The West End community came together with TCHNetwork to start constructing ramps; Len independently built two ramps before partnering with TCHNetwork and NHS on the current ramp.  Len firmly believes that the high school students add a special element to the project.  “Seeing the different generations come together to make a difference is really something. I’m proud of the work the students have accomplished so far—they didn’t hesitate to jump right in and get their hands dirty.”

The next step of the project will be to install the different parts of the ramp that the volunteers constructed at the client’s home.  After this ramp is constructed, TCHNetwork will continue to work to improve the health and wellbeing of West End community residents with limited mobility by building additional ramps with the support of volunteers and donated supplies.

Formed in 2009, TCHNetwork is comprised of a group of healthcare providers in southwest Colorado within the counties of Montrose, Ouray, and San Miguel that are committed to improving the quality and coordination of health and health care services in this tri-county region by increasing access to healthcare and integrative health services at lower costs through collaboration and innovation. In 2016, TCHNetwork opened a new location at the West End Economic Development Corporation (WEEDC) building at 230 West Main Street in Naturita. For more information, visit: www.tchnetwork.org.