Love. Serve. Connect: The Catholic Heart Work Camp Collaboration
by: Dan Wilkins, Director of Special Projects
If you ever wondered who it was making the Craig Bridge raise and lower when ships needed through, Charles Ham was the guy; one of them, at least. For the last eight years of his career with the Ohio Department of Transportation, Mr. Ham made the long walk and longer climb to the tower to keep things running smoothly on his part of the Maumee. It all ended with a case of frostbite and neuropathy in his legs. Then came the issues with his kidneys. The career ended when Charles was told he needed to go on disability. These days, despite dialysis every other day and the two canes he uses to get from here to there, Charles Ham will tell you he is living a blessed life.
“Let’s just say I’m happy to still be pulling daisies, rather than pushing,” he said with a big laugh. We sat in the shade of his garage watching his new ramp take shape. He had come out on the porch to see how things were progressing, took one look at me roasting in the sun with my camera, and immediately sent me to the garage, where he joined me soon after. He pulled up a lawn chair and started talking about the build.
“This is wonderful.” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing that these young people are doing, to have come from so far away to help someone they don’t even know.”
The young people he was referring to were all from Memphis, and this was their fifth and sixth year of participating as a group in the CatholicHeart Work Camp. The Camp is an annual gathering of middle through high school age students from across the country, who commit to a week of community service as part of their church life.
Courtney and Mary Catherine, the two young ladies of the group of six working on Mr. Ham’s ramp, were both new graduates. They were enjoying one last summer of giving before heading off to college. “Each year is different.” shares Courtney. “We’ve been to Michigan, South Carolina, the Twin Cities, Boston, and one other place…”
“You forgot Oklahoma City,” Mary Catherine adds, filling in the blank. I asked if they had ever built a ramp before. “Nope,” Mary Catherine continued, and they both began to rattle off jobs they had done. “We’ve painted churches and houses and basements, planted flowers and other landscaping, cleaned up lots … but this is our first ramp.”
I shared Mr. Ham’s comment about “young people coming so far to help someone they didn’t even know.” Courtney smiled and said how happy that made her feel. I also
shared with them how Charles worried every day about falling when he left his house and how he would never need to worry about that again.
“They ask me every time I go to dialysis,” he had said, “if I have fallen since the last time I was in. I always worry I will have to say ‘Yes’ because that stops everything! Now I will be able to come and go with less worry.”
Mr. Ham’s ramp build is this year’s collaborative project between The Ability Center and the Catholic Heart Work Camp organization, a partnership that has been going on for nearly ten years. The ramp is being funded through the Martin Luther King Grant, managed locally by the Toledo Fair Housing Center, The Ability Center, and the Lucas County Land Bank.
“This year, we’re 18,” Courtney says proudly. “That means we finally get to use power tools. See, when you’re under 18, you can plant and paint and haul stuff around, but you can’t actually build anything. It’s cool putting something like this together.”
“Yes, Courtney,” I said, “It is cool putting something like this together. What is really cool, though, as you will find out on the last day of the build, is watching Mr. Ham use his new ramp for the very first time. If his smile is half as big as it was while we sat talking in the garage, you and your fellow students will know just how much of an impact you have made on one man’s life.
You will have made it better, and safer, and that is worth every sore muscle and drop of sweat. And it will make the long ride back to Memphis for you, Mary Catherine, Kaes, Hayes, Warner, and John Anthony seem a little shorter, for sure.
Thank you for your service. Best of luck to you all in your futures. We hope the memories and new-found skills you have acquired these four days will help you along your life journeys. Thank you, and the Catholic Heart Work Camp organization, for helping The Ability Center further its mission of assisting people with disabilities seeking to live, work, and socialize within fully accessible communities.
For more information about The Ability Center’s Home Modification Program, click here.
For more information about the Catholic Heart Work Camp program, visit their website.