In the Rusk, Texas, Kampgrounds of America (KOA) office, a little sign hangs high on the back wall behind the desk, just over the head of the attendant.
It reads, ““If you are disabled or require assistance, please notify our staff members who will be willing to help you.”
Walter Preble, who owns the 80-site, East Texas KOA, has taken the courteous notice farther than just helping his customers. He, along with a group of Workampers from around the country built between 25 and 30 platforms of varying sizes to be used in the construction of wheelchair ramps, the Jacksonville Daily Progress reported.
Preble and the campers built the pieces, using their own tools and materials donated by businesses like Harry’s Building Supplies, Lowe’s, Sutherlands and the Home Depot, to help the Texas Ramp Project.
Preble was inspired by a story about a woman who needed a ramp, but because of a backlog of work and a shortage of volunteers, passed away before one could be built.
The KOA is part of a large network of traveling workers who move about the country working in parks and campgrounds in a variety of positions. From entertainment to maintenance, workers turn out to help the facilities run smoothly.
In many cases, Preble said, KOAs will perform service projects with the help of the campers.
“It’s part of standard operating procedures based on skills and time,” he said.
Campers come from many walks of life and are often retired, though there are some who are professionals. Their homes are as far ranging as their talents.
At the Rusk KOA, the workers have come from places as far away as Illinois, Oregon, Colorado and Minnesota.
The workers are compensated for their jobs at the parks and grounds, but with thousands of facilities participating in the program, compensation varies widely, he said.
For the KOA volunteers, the community is the real benefit.
“It’s one of those things you don’t think about and just do,” said Phil David, a camper from Gilmer, Texas.
“Why would you help an old lady across the street? Because she needs help.”
So when Preble approached the workers about working on the ramps, they were all ears.
Preble told members of the Cherokee County chapter of the ramp project they were ready to help.
“You get us the materials and we’ll do the building,” Preble said to the Cherokee County branch of the organization.
And build they did.
Over the course of about a day-and-a-half, the team of volunteers, sometimes as many as 20, built the platforms in an assembly-line style, Preble said.
With their efforts, the team established a stockpile of ramp modules which can be picked up and sent where needed around the region.
“Walter has saved us a tremendous amount of time and energy on site,” said Cherokee County Rampers Team Leader Sidney Riley. “ When we get there, we basically just have to prep the ground and attach the modules together. We’re more efficient and it’s easier on the homeowners.”
So far, the Cherokee County chapter has built two ramps in the area and the effects of the work are wide.
“You never realize how important a ramp would be until you have a disabled person who is injured or needs to be evacuated out of their home,” he said. “There are second and third level effects from being able to do that.”
Everyone from the home owners and their families to emergency responders benefit from easier access, he said.
Riley said the organization, still relatively new, is hoping to attract more volunteers to keep more work on their schedules.
Preble’s force of volunteers have been an invaluable asset, Riley said, but in the nature of Workampers, they will soon be on their ways to other facilities who can use them.
If the Rampers can attract more interest from area service organizations, they can build two teams, which would allow them to maintain a steady flow of projects, Riley said.
“If we could get two eight-man teams, we could be going at least two weekends a month and doing twice as many (projects) as we’re doing now,” he said. “Whether somebody wants to donate materials, time or if they want to come work with us, it all goes toward helping somebody who’s in need and that’s what it’s all about.”
Organizations and people interested in working with the Texas Ramp Building Project in Cherokee County can contact Riley at (903) 586-1939.
For more information on the Texas Ramp Building Project, visit www.texasramps.org.