It’s an industrious, noisy late September scene as members of the Buckley-based nonprofit Building Beyond the Walls construct a wheelchair ramp for 8-year-old Enumclaw resident Zane Locklear.
It took a whole day of work and then some to finish the ramp, which winds around the house’s backyard. But that ramp is going to make a world of difference for its recipient.
In all the ways that matter, Zane is just like any other kid. He loves playing on swings, listening to music, and his brothers Paxton and Cyrus, who make him laugh when they tussle. A fountain of blond, curly hair erupts from his head, and when he smiles, his entire face lights up.
What Zane needs is a little extra help. At nearly two years old, he narrowly survived a nonfatal drowning and endured an hour-and-a-half of CPR.
His mother, Tiffany Locklear, said she was advised to “pull the plug” on Zane and that he would be left in a vegetative state.
But “I did not give up on him,” Locklear said. “Since then, it’s been six years now, and he’s been here fighting for his life everyday.”
Zane today can’t sit on his own and uses a wheelchair. Loud noises startle him and music calms him, so Locklear often has tunes playing in the house.
He’s been making small but measurable improvements since, Locklear said, like showing more emotion and getting better at breathing on his own.
“It’s proof that his brain is changing and healing,” she said.
Between battles over insurance and warding off seizures and other ailments, the last thing Zane needs is a big production just getting in and out of the house.
Their home, where the family has lived since June, is all one level, but that level is about four feet off the ground. So prior to getting the ramp, Locklear had to lift Zane every time they go left or came home. That task wasn’t getting any easier as Zane grew older.
“This ramp is going to make a world of difference,” Locklear said. “It’s a huge stress off of our shoulders.”
Paxton and Cyrus also gave the ramp their seal of approval and said it’d make it easier to hang out with their brother.
Zane’s made friends in therapy who can make use of the ramp when they visit, Locklear said. And the rising popularity of Rambler-type houses could be an indicator that people are starting to think more about mobility in their homes in general.
“No one wants stairs anymore,” Locklear joked.
That concept of maximizing accessibility – aka “Universal design” – is something Building Beyond the Walls teaches, the organization’s founder Sue Hart said.
“A lot of people think it’s just for older people, and it’s not,” Hart said. “Things happen in life. Things like a zero-clearance entry, wider halls, everybody can use that.”
The local Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS) has since 1993 hosted their yearly Rampathon, providing funding to build wheelchair access ramps for free for neighbors who need them. The project has helped put together more than 500 ramps in that time, according to the MBAKS website.
Dunn Lumber donated the lumber and some other supplies for this year’s projects.
Ordinarily, the Master Builders selects dozens of projects each year, Hart said, but COVID limited the number to 13 this year.
Build Beyond The Walls (BBTW) is the local, non-profit arm of the operation which brought together the volunteers to confirm the project and actually build the ramp.
BBTW, based in Buckley, offers free construction training for those who donate at least 50 hours of work to the community, Hart said.
Ramps are some of the most frequent requests that BBTW and the Master Builders receive, but they can be tricky to put together.
Limited backyard space at Locklear’s home meant the ramp has to turn to fit. Most of the backyard is concrete, so BBTW used special equipment to drill into the ground, set up support posts and brace them together.
William Waugh, who lives in the Veazie Cumberland area, is a board member of Building Beyond the Walls who started as a student of the organization. This year was his first Rampathon.
“It’s a great feeling to be part of an effort like this,” Waugh said. “It’s a good opportunity to help people who could really use a ramp like this to make their lives easier.”
These projects can cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of working hours to construct, and this one was no exception: Hart estimated the ramp cost about $5,000 and 286 work hours.
“We’re just so grateful we have this opportunity to help Tiffany,” Hart said.