A Carmel retiree wanted to help other retirees and those in need. He also desired to add purpose to his retirement years.
John Galloway found both when he began volunteering for Servants at Work Inc., a faith-based organization that builds wheelchair ramps for those who cannot afford them. SAWs, based at 8427 Zionsville Rd. in Indianapolis, relies on volunteers like Galloway (it has more than 3,000 volunteers statewide) and is funded by grants and donations from corporate partners and service organizations.
According to the organization’s website, SAWs officials state the organization seeks to “transform the lives of our recipients and the lives of our volunteers through meaningful service.” Galloway, who got involved in May after learning about the group from a fellow church member at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Carmel, has seen and felt the difference SAWs can make.
After one recent build, he watched as a recipient used the ramp to navigate her wheelchair into her yard, where she sat and looked up at the sun.
“Now she’ll be able to do that any day of the week,” Galloway said. “You see instantaneous results. I find it’s very, very fulfilling.”
According to founder Rik Hagarty, a Carmel resident, SAWs was established in 2003 as a mission ministry of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. The church saw a need because the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, written to make public spaces accessible, didn’t address the need for people to get in and out of their homes, Hagarty said, especially those who couldn’t afford to make their residence more accessible.
Agency partners refer potential ramp recipients to SAWs. Requests are vetted for physical and financial need. SAWs conducts a site survey to determine if the ramp can be built and what design best meets ADA code, Hagarty said.
The average crew for a SAWs ramp build is six to 10 volunteers, and the average project takes four to six hours, Hagarty said. SAWs built 411 ramps statewide (124 of them in Marion County) in 2022. The organization constructed its 3,000th ramp in August 2021 and expects to build its 4,000th ramp next spring.
The group’s impact isn’t measured in just numbers. A finished ramp gives all those involved a sense of satisfaction.
“The feeling is indescribable,” Hagarty said. “There are smiles, tears and very warm hearts.”
SAWs volunteers and staff (four full-time and two part-time employees) gather each week to relive that feeling. SAWs headquarters has a bulletin board on which thank-you notes from ramp recipients are attached. The thank-you notes from the previous week are read aloud Thursday mornings, said Tim Thurston, a Franklin resident who started as a SAWs volunteer in 2016 and is now the organization’s executive director.
“We do that with that joy that we are making a difference in people’s lives,” Thurston said.
SAWs’ services are available in 68 Indiana counties, and the organization is looking to expand, Thurston said. All are welcome to volunteer regardless of carpentry ability and experience. Volunteers fulfill a variety of roles, and more experienced ramp-builders will work with those who are new to ramp-building tools and terminology. Like Galloway, Thurston came to SAWs with limited carpentry experience.
“I’m living proof that anyone can build a ramp with the proper instruction and patience,” Thurston said.
To get involved, visit sawsramps.org and scroll to volunteer in the menu.