IAM 751 volunteers rebuild ramp, and man’s faith

SEATTLE – Members of the aerospace machinists union recently rebuilt a Seattle man’s wheelchair ramp – and his faith in humanity.

SeattleRamp7“It’s so fantastic – I can’t believe this is happening,” said Tim Owens, as volunteers from Machinists Union District Lodge 751 installed a new 6-foot ramp at his north Seattle home. “Yesterday, I was in total despair. Today, I have hope.”

Owens is partially disabled due to a combination of medical conditions that make it extremely painful for him to stand and walk. He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

Despite that, he remains an active member of his community. He volunteers every week at a thrift store and soup kitchen run by University Temple Methodist Church in Seattle.

“What is the world, if a man doesn’t make it a better place?” Owens said.

But all that appeared to have come to a halt on Feb. 27, when Owens discovered that the 6-foot aluminum wheelchair ramp he used to get out his front door was gone. “I opened the door and said ‘Oh no, where’d my ramp go?’”

It was probably taken to a scrap yard to be sold for quick cash, police told him.

Owens’ story caught the attention of two Seattle TV stations, which ran stories about the theft, and one of those caught the attention of District 751 members who belong to the Machinists Volunteer Program Committee.

“I was sitting in a meeting and my phone started buzzing with e-mails asking ‘Can we do this?’” said MVP Chairman Robley Evans. “Because it was a wheelchair ramp, it was natural for us to get involved.”

District 751 MVPs specialize in wheelchair ramps – the one they built for Owens was the 335th built by union volunteers since the committee was formed by former IAM 751 President Bill Johnson in 1997.

Typically, the MVPs provide free labor while the family of the person receiving the ramp pays for materials. But in this case, the MVPs had lumber and plywood on hand – materials recycled from a ramp they’d built last winter for a union member who died shortly after the ramp was completed.

The family had donated the materials back to the MVP Committee, which had them on hand when Owens needed a ramp on short notice.

With help from reporters at KING-TV in Seattle, Owens and the MVPs got in touch, and on the next day, Feb. 28, four union volunteers showed up at Owens’ home to build his new ramp – which they securely bolted into the concrete steps and sidewalk to make sure it wouldn’t be taken.

Owens said he was incredibly grateful.

“This means my freedom. This means my independence,” he said. “I can’t imagine these people giving their own time and energy to do this. I’m beyond words.”

To see KING-TV’s report on IAM 751 MVPs rebuilding Owens’ ramp, click here.

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