Ramp-up to Success

April 10, 2003
Ramp-up to Success
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
St. Rita’s Parishioner Improves Church and Earns Eagle Scout Badge

Tim White’s father and great-uncle are both Eagle Scouts. So carrying on the White family’s tradition of scouting was very important to him. However, earning the Eagle Scout badge, the highest ranking a Boy Scout can achieve, was no simple task. According to Eagle Scout guidelines, Tim had to plan and implement a project of some value to the community.

While there were certainly several causes worthy of his attention, Tim found that his services were most needed at his home parish of St. Rita’s in Chenango Forks. Though a parish serving the disabled and elderly, the church wasn’t handicapped accessible. “There were people struggling to get into our church because there was no ramp,” Tim, 15, explained. “I remember going to Mass on Sundays and carrying one wheelchair-bound parishioner up the stairs into the church. I thought of all the people that would benefit if I built a handicapped accessible ramp. It seemed like a big project, but I knew it could be done.”

Father Stanley J. Gerlock, pastor of St. Rita’s Church, said that making his church handicapped accessible had been on the agenda for a long time. He knew that something had to be done to replace the bumpy stone walkway, which wasn’t suitable for parishioners with canes, walkers or wheelchairs, that led up to the staircase. But it was only when Tim presented the idea, Father Gerlock noted, that the ball finally got rolling. “The addition to St. Rita’s has been something that we have wanted to do here for 20 years, but we didn’t know if it was something that could be done or not. We could not come up with a practical way to do it” said Father Gerlock. “So when Tim came to the parish council with his idea we were very excited, knowing that although it may be difficult project it would ultimately be of great benefit to our church and the parishioners.”

From July until November 2002, Tim worked on building the handicapped accessible ramp at St. Rita’s. The finished project is an 80-foot wooden ramp, divided into three elevated platforms leading into the church –– not a little project by any means. William Shoemaker, one of the adults who helped to oversee Tim’s project, was surprised at the magnitude of Tim’s idea. He remarked that while he has helped other scouts with their Eagle projects, this one was unique. “I have never seen a project this big. It was such an incredibly large thing for one person to take on,” Shoemaker said.

But the philosophy behind the Eagle Scout project is teamwork and Tim wasn’t alone in building the ramp. He recruited the assistance of three other scouts as well as two adults. Everyone had a role, Tim said. Shoemaker, an engineer, and David White, Tim’s father, helped him to develop the blueprints and determine the materials needed for the ramp. The Boy Scouts tirelessly loaded the trucks and carried the wood back and forth.

During the sweltering heat of the summer months they all worked together, digging the footing for the ramp and measuring and cutting the pieces that would form the ramp. Tim said that he learned more from the sense of teamwork and sharing one another’s ideas than the actual building aspect of the project. “It’s not really so much about what you do, but more of how it gets done. You aren’t supposed to do all of the work alone, but get fellow scouts involved to produce big results,” Tim said. “Older scouts working on their projects have a responsibility to teach the younger ones –– maybe they will use your help in the future in their own Eagle Scout project.”

Prior to the construction of the ramp, Tim was responsible for going into the community and soliciting financial and material donations. He eventually collected over $2000 in cash and hardware supplies from parishioners and local lumber yards. Father Gerlock commented on Tim’s consistent energy and dedication for the project, from its start to finish. “He was just so enthusiastic throughout his whole project. He took something that we didn’t think could be done and did a great job at it, with a wonderful attitude. We call him ‘Our Little Cherub,’” said Father Gerlock. Tim said that the project ended up being a very gratifying experience. Not only is he now a successful third-generation Eagle Scout, but he will also see the mark of his achievement helping parishioners of St. Rita’s for years to come. “It is a good thing to see that something I have done is helping people,” said Tim. “There was one man at church who came up to me at church and said, ‘I have bad knees, thank you for building the ramp.’ That made me feel great. That makes all the hard work worth it.”

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