Volunteers build ramp for Chapel Hill single mother

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Do you want a good news story?"

The caller didn't care to be named or get credit for her part.

Nor did the other people who filled in the blanks. They're volunteers.

Some knew that the Chapel Hill area woman has helped others with no expectation of reward.

Others were motivated by that same spirit in the single mother of five who they helped one day last week, and earlier as a wheel chair ramp construction project was planned.

Rachel Williams, 32, is a country girl who lives in what was built as a bunkhouse on a farm east of Chapel Hill. She speaks openly about her life since graduating from Cornersville High School in 1997.

She's organized benefit fundraisers for people. She's forthright about her willingness to help people anyway she can, from driving people places, watching kids and just generally being a good neighbor.

Now, a construction contractor specializing in decks, stairs and ramps has rounded up a crew from among his friends and members of his church in Columbia. A Unionville woman has organized a fundraiser for Williams and a lumber company in Shelbyville has provided the wood needed for the ramp.

Williams needs it to get to her kitchen, her children's rooms and to be at home. She's got a ground floor room, but that was reconfigured for her before the ramp was built.

She's now using a motorized wheelchair because at about 9 p.m. on Aug. 14 she was hit by a 2000 Dodge Durango truck.

"My boyfriend, Larry Brown, and I were in Gruetli-Laager (a Grundy County town of nearly 1,900) at the Red Barn for a mixed martial arts event because one of my boyfriend's friends was competing," Williams said.

Holding hands, they took the usual precautions and then: "headlights came up; brakes locked up; and there was nothing I could do," she said.

Her surgeon later estimated the truck's speed at 40-45 mph.

"I probably flew 20 yards," she continued.

Helicopter ambulances weren't flying because of the weather. A Grundy ambulance took her to the hospital in Sewanee where she was stabilized and then a Franklin County ambulance rushed her to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga. She was in traction six hours. Subsequent surgery took 4-5 hours.

In 1992, she was injured in a four-wheeler accident when she was 14. About five years later, she had a hip replacement to deal with lingering maladies from the crash. It was a factor during her surgery nearly three months ago.

After six days in Erlanger, she went to Glen Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Shelbyville for 40 days until Sept. 28. She then stayed with Brown for three weeks because her home wasn't handicap ready. She moved home on Oct. 18.

By then, friends, associates, members of the Pleasant Heights Baptist Church in Columbia and the proprietors of the lumber company in Bedford County had come to know about Williams' injury, surgery and recovery.

Gina Majors of Unionville, an employee at SSR Inventory in Columbia, organized a benefit, and contacted others. Doug Kelly, a deacon at Pleasant Heights Baptist Church sent an e-mail to the church secretary who forwarded it to the congregation.

"Within a couple of hours," Kelly said, "I had eight volunteers and then I was able to put a date on it -- when to work."

Construction started and was completed on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

"We had a few of the volunteers who wanted to be sure we were finished in time for them to go vote," Kelly said.

During the construction, Kelly said they needed some more lumber and on Tuesday, Matt Mullaney, general manager of Shelbyville Lumber, confirmed that the business provided what was needed.

It was exciting for the volunteers to see Williams roll up the ramp for the first time, Kelly said. Also, a few of the volunteers hadn't had experience with an air hammer. No injuries were reported, but the new experience led to lighter moments at Williams' home.

They had a prayer session at breakfast and at lunch that day, said Kelly, proprietor of D.K Construction in Columbia.

"If anything good comes from this -- other than her being able to get upstairs -- we would hope that people would see that when they get to that point, they'd realize there are good people in the world who will help those in trouble," he said.

Pleasant Heights Baptist Church is "a world-wide church with members who go on missions around the world," he said, "so when something comes up like this, we saw the need."