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New ministry ‘ramping up’ to help wheelchair-bound neighbors

120119wheelchair ramp

A wheelchair ramp takes shape at the Len Pryweller home near the lakefront in Gary in November thanks to the efforts of the AMRAMP Wheelchair Ramp Ministry from St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville, including (from left) volunteers James Koeling, Mike Macki, Bill Marvel and Tom Molnar. (Marlene A. Zloza photo)

Northwest Indiana Catholic

     GARY – “God moves in mysterious ways” is the well-known title of a hymn by William Cowper, while everyone has heard the popular phrase “There is no such thing as a coincidence.” Both expressions certainly proved true this fall for Len Pryweller and his long-time friend and caregiver Janet Potasnik.
     When Potasnik stopped by the Diocese of Gary’s Pastoral Center in October to make a payment toward her Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) pledge, she met with Chief of Staff Mike Wick. “While we were talking, I told him about Len, who is now legally blind and has other health issues that require him to use a wheelchair,” recalled Potasnik.
     “‘You don’t happen to need a ramp, do you?’ he asked, and I couldn’t believe it. I had been trying for months to find someone who would install a wheelchair ramp at Len’s house, with no luck,” Potasnik explained about the older ranch-style home along the lakefront in Gary. “It has been getting harder and harder to get Len from the house to the car and back, even for doctor’s appointments, and I didn’t know what we were going to do this winter. I was afraid he would be completely homebound.”

     It so happened Wick had just been talking with Jim Koeling, who heads a new AMRAMP Wheelchair Ramp Ministry at St. Michael the Archangel in Schererville. Building on a program operated by the Valparaiso Noon Kiwanis Club to purchase Americans with Disabilities Act-certified steel ramps that can be installed at a home in 2-3 hours by volunteers, Koeling’s plan was to buy good-quality used ramps on eBay and pick them up and store them until someone contacts the ministry with a need.
     A Mercy Fund grant from the Catholic Foundation of Northwest Indiana provided seed money, and other grants and directed donations added up to allow the ministry to purchase and pick up its first used ramp in Youngstown, Ohio. “The ramps come in sections, so they can be customized, and we are hoping to help anyone in Lake County who needs wheelchair access,” Koeling explained last summer.
     Potasnik, a St. Mary of the Lake parishioner, had earlier contacted Koeling after reading about the ministry in the Northwest Indiana Catholic, but at that time no ramp was available. Her timing was perfect, however, when she met with Wick, and arrangements were quickly made to install the ramp free of charge at Pryweller’s Miller Beach home. “Jim (Koeling) came by, measured and went back to measure the ramp, then called me back and said, ‘It will work,’” Potasnik recalled.
     “We wanted to get at least one ramp installed before winter,” noted Koeling. “We have the manual, and we wanted to get some experience, and then start looking for a second ramp that we can have ready.” The ministry is a joint effort, added Koeling, with St. Michael volunteers Koeling, Mike Macki, John Zaborski and Tom Molnar joined by Bill Marvel of St. John the Evangelist in St. John. Deacon Tom Kubik of Holy Name of Jesus in Cedar Lake is storing ramp components in his garage until needed.
     The installation couldn’t have come too soon for Pryweller, 87. “I think it’s terrific,” he said as the ramp was being installed on a brisk fall day. “This will help me remain in my own house.”
     Potasnik explained that she had been lining up medical appointments for Pryweller before winter arrived, anticipating that he would be homebound for months. “It was just too hard and too dangerous anymore for me to try to get Len down the porch steps and into and out of the chair,” she explained, “especially when the weather is bad. I use a gait belt, but he can’t see and I can’t manage safely by myself anymore. It took a half hour just to get him from the house into the car.
     “This is just wonderful, how it worked out, so providential,” said Potasnik.
Koeling said the first installation went well thanks to volunteers with construction experience, including Macki, who heads the Rebuilding Hope Ministry at St. Michael, while         Wick was happy to connect the two parties to fill a need. “The timing was perfect,” he said.

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