Collaboration and Community Service, One Ramp at a Time

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For me, the summer months used to possess a certain emptiness. The warm weather and freedom to explore personal projects were always welcome, but the absence of school’s daily scheduling and assignments sometimes left me feeling generally aimless and without purpose. This all changed, though, about three years ago when my 80-year-old neighbor asked me to volunteer with him.

Mr. Edgerton, a former engineer, heads a team of mostly retired men and women who build ramps for people who have difficulty getting in and out of their homes. The service is provided free of charge—construction materials are paid for by donations, and the tools are owned by the volunteers. As it was explained to me in the passenger seat of Mr. Edgerton’s pickup, “They need the ramp just as much whether they can afford it or not.” I began helping as a sort of worksite assistant, carrying boards, digging post holes, and completing simple tasks like these, but with time I learned the intricacies of the construction process, requiring less and less guidance until I could serve as half of a two-man team, laying down a few ramps in one morning.

At first, I had been pitching in every week just to occupy my time and attention, but I soon came to understand the...

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