The alarms of West Ottawa students went off at 6:30 on January 12. The night before, a terrible snowstorm had swept through Holland. The snow-covered roads made students hopeful for a snow day, but there was no tweet from Superintendent Tom Martin, meaning school was on. Students tiredly got out of bed, grabbed some extra layers, and left for school; however, the snow posed a bigger obstacle for Soph. Alex Armstrong.
Armstrong uses a manual wheelchair. On this January morning, he didn’t have a ramp at his front door. Armstrong’s parents awkwardly helped him out of the wheelchair, moved the chair to the bottom of their front steps, and helped him back in.
“It was harder when it was raining or snowing; that’s when we thought I might need the ramp because it was getting difficult,” Armstrong said. The struggle down the stairs did not allow for an umbrella, so on rainy days, Armstrong knew he would spend the first part of his day drying out.
“Obviously going up and down steps is difficult, but he was very nonchalant about it. He never complains about anything,” Instructor Mary DePree said.
Armstrong’s positive attitude inspired DePree, and she wanted to help him. DePree contacted Instructor Jenn Dewaard, who knew an agency that could provide assistance: The Lakeshore Disability Network. After finding a suitable ramp for Armstrong and his house, DePree hoped the school could help with payment.
“First thing that came to mind was W.I.N. WO (When In Need West Ottawa),” DePree said. DePree didn’t know if the program had ever done something similar for a student, so she contacted Assistant Principal Jason Reinecke. W.I.N. WO had never provided a ramp for a student, but everyone eagerly accepted the new challenge.
“W.I.N. WO has provided eyeglasses and clothes, but helping a student who couldn’t get in and out of his house was really special, and that all goes back to our students and Senior Survivor, “ Reinecke said. Last December, students and local businesses raised $26,375.31 by donating to the 12 seniors competing in West Ottawa’s version of the show “Survivor,” and those funds helped pay for Armstrong’s ramp.
After receiving support from Armstrong’s parents, Amramp, operating under Michigan Ramp System LLC, installed a temporary ramp at Armstrong’s house until a permanent ramp can be paid for and installed in the warmer weather.
“We didn’t think I needed a ramp before, but I’m a lot happier with the ramp now. The ramp goes right up to my front door, so I don’t have to do anything else,” Armstrong said. The ramp curves to the right then back to the left, providing easy access to Armstrong’s front door.
Armstrong used to rely on standard wood steps, which absorbed moisture and became slippery easily. The ramp is permeable and slip-resistant. No longer does the weather consume Armstrong’s attention when he wakes up.
Armstrong benefits from the ramp every day. Armstrong’s mom, Theresa Armstrong, is especially appreciative, knowing her son is more independent and safe.
“We do these big fundraisers, but we never know the rest of the story. It’s nice for students to see the whole story and the program come full circle,” DePree said. This project has a lasting effect on Armstrong, as displayed by the smile on his face every morning.
Now, Armstrong moves in and out of his house independently. The sudden snowstorm on April 16 caused no distress because Armstrong effortlessly descended down his slip-resistant ramp. Sure, his dad shovelled for a few minutes, but the effort was worth the accessibility improvement.