Community comes together to build wheelchair ramp for North Delta preschooler

Parents and alumni of Sunshine Hills Parent Participation Preschool and other community partners come together to make it more accessible.

Day one ramp construction work crew at Sunshine Hills Parent Participation Preschool: (top row

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and parents and alumni at one North Delta preschool have taken that proverb to heart.

Current and past parents and students at Sunshine Hills Parent Participation Preschool (SHPPP), a 64-space non-profit school nestled in the woods west of Sunshine Hills Elementary, spent the weekend of Aug. 13 building a new ramp to accommodate Natalie Essex, a wheelchair-bound student with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) starting at the school in September. (Coincidently, August is SMA awareness month.)

“This really has been a joint effort,” said SHPPP teacher Lori Hodder. “We have grandparents who are coming to help, we have parents that are in the school coming to help, and a friend who is retired, he’s offered to help. So it’s really been a community effort.”

John Essex and his granddaughter Natalie. John was one of many volunteers who helped build a wheelchair ramp so Natalie could attend Sunshine Hills Parents Participation Preschool. Image credit: Lori Hodder

John Essex and his granddaughter Natalie. John was one of many volunteers who helped build a wheelchair ramp so Natalie could attend Sunshine Hills Parents Participation Preschool. Image credit: Lori Hodder

Although the school was awarded a $2,000 grant from the provincial government to help offset the costs, Hodder said the project would not have gotten off the ground were it not for the help of volunteers and local businesses.

“It was going to cost us about $8,600 to do this ramp otherwise and the school did not have the money to do that,” she said. “What’s really cool about a place like this is, when something like this happens, you put a call out to people or you start phoning people and asking them, ‘Do you know who we can talk to?’”

One of those calls was to Colin and Kathy MacKenzie. All four of the MacKenzie kids spent their preschool years at SHPPP, and even though their youngest is starting grade five in September, Colin and Kathy were happy to help.

“My husband’s a contractor and Lori has called on him a couple of times to come look at things and just to get an honest quote of what it’s going to take to fix it,” Kathy said. “So when she just called me out of the blue and said, “Can you donate some tools help put this together?’ Colin didn’t even hesitate. He’s like, ‘of course, sure!’”

Kathy, an alumna of the school and an educational assistant working with kids with special needs, said SHPPP’s a place that kids love to come to and where parents can find a supportive community to belong to.

“When we first started at the preschool [as parents], we had just moved back to the community; I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “My best friends to this day are the people that I met in that first year in the school and we are as thick as thieves, the whole group of us.”

Hodder said the community of SHPPP parents and alumni came through in a big way to make the ramp happen.

“One of the families went to Northern Building Supply and told them what we were doing and they reduced the bill by about $400 of what would be retail. Then Natalie’s father — he works for PCL [Construction] — he took it to them and [they] took another couple of hundred off it.

“[Then] you have other families who go to other businesses and say, ‘Hey listen, can you help us out with this?’ and those businesses then helped us out. Superior Produce on 64th and Scott Road, Ken up there, we’re taking him plates and he’s going to donate fruits and veggies for the work crews. So really, it’s been a coming together of a lot of different community pieces.”

Tetra Society’s David Spears oversees Andrew and John Essex (Natalie’s dad and grandpa) as they construct a wheelchair ramp at Sunshine Hills Parent Participation Preschool on Aug. 13. Image credit: Lori Hodder

Tetra Society’s David Spears oversees Andrew and John Essex (Natalie’s dad and grandpa) as they construct a wheelchair ramp at Sunshine Hills Parent Participation Preschool on Aug. 13. Image credit: Lori Hodder

Perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle was the Tetra Society of North America and engineer David Spears.

According to its website, the Tetra Society is “a non-profit organization, founded in 1987 in Vancouver, B.C., that recruits skilled volunteers to create customized assistive devices for people with physical disabilities.” The society has 45 chapters across Canada and the United States.

Spears, a retired mechanical engineer who has worked with Tetra since November, said he wasn’t planning to take on any new work but couldn’t resist helping out a friend.

“I hadn’t intended to do a project. I’m in the middle [of renovations]…and I worked until about midnight last night. But when I saw it was Natalie and I know John very well, I thought I’d take that project on,” Spears said.

“Even though he’s doing this huge renovation on his house — he sent me pictures [and] his house is completely torn apart; I can’t believe he’s doing this for us — he felt that he really needed to lend a hand,” Hodder said, adding Spears was only reimbursed for his mileage and expenses. “I almost cried when I found out.”

Spears estimated he’s spent a cumulative 40 hours designing the ramp, submitting the plans to the Corporation of Delta and writing easy-to-follow instructions for the volunteers to follow.

“It’s been a lot of pre-work to get ready. Because we’ve got some novices and the like, I’ve got to kind of spell it out, not only in drawings and submit it to the Corporation of Delta for approval, but also put it in a step-by-step procedure,” Spears said.