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Helping Hands And Hearts Brighten The Holidays

By Staff | Dec 20, 2016

HELPING?PAUL - It didn’t take long for a group of volunteers to construct a temporary sidewalk to make it easier for Paul Richerson, in the wheelchair, and his mother Jennifer Meyer, to get from his home in Emmetsburg to curbside so he can be picked up by school bus. From left to right are Roger Daum, representing the Emmetsburg Kiwanis Club, Emmetsburg High School Construction Class students Jimmie Steffens and Jake Lausen, Greg Sween, Paraeducator Jessica Joyce, Paul Richerson, Jennifer Meyer and Construction Class students Will Schany, Grant Deitering and AJ?Krieg. Sween designed the walkway and the students helped transport and assemble it as a holiday gift to a E-Hawk family in need. -- Dan Voigt photo

Imagine life in a wheelchair. Your world is filled with ramps, special transportation and at times, difficulty in just getting from point A to point B. But wait, throw another twist into your day – there is no sidewalk from your front door to the curb, just a lawn, now covered in snow.

Pretty daunting, wouldn’t you agree? Especially when you are a fifth grader and your mom is your caregiver.

This is the reality for Paul Richerson and his mother, Jennifer Meyer. The family live on Grand Avenue in Emmetsburg, and when the first snow of the winter fell, life became just a little more difficult for the pair.

Jessica Joyce is a nurse-paraeducator who spends the school day with Paul. In that capacity, she travels on the bus that picks Paul up each day to bring him to and from school. While the bus has a handicap lift to handle the wheelchair, it is up to Jennifer to get Paul from the house to the bus. Without a sidewalk, pushing the wheelchair was a challenge some days, but when the snow fell, the challenge became even greater.

“Because of regulations, I?can’t go out and help and neither can the bus driver,”?Joyce explained. “It was just breaking my heart to see Paul’s mother struggling in the snow to get him to the curb every day and back to the house.”

Joyce knew that somehow, some way, there had to be a way to help these two.

Enter Greg Sween.

Sween, a retired teacher and contractor, was substituting in school when Joyce began telling him about Paul’s plight.

“After Jessica told me what the situation was, I drove by their house and got an idea to build a temporary walkway from the ramp to the curb so Paul’s mom would have an easier time of getting him in and out of the house to the bus.”

Sween came up with a plan, obtained the materials and quickly, three sheets of plywood, complete with a carpet covering, were put together by the Travis Birkey’s Construction Class at Emmetsburg High School, which Sween substitutes for on occasion.

“It wasn’t that hard or time consuming to do, and the kids were all in favor of helping out,”?Sween said. “We’ll get them community service hours for helping, but they all wanted to do it regardless, because Paul needed some help.”

While paying for the materials was a minor concern, Sween did a little pitching about the project, and the Emmetsburg Kiwanis Club volunteered to pay for the construction materials.

With all the pieces of the project lined up, Thursday was the big day. Sween lined up the Construction Class students: Grant Deitering, AJ Krieg, Will Schany, Jimmie Steffens, and Jake Lausen and the group transported the three sections of walkway to Paul’s home.

Roger Daum of the Kiwanis Club came by, and from the house, Paul, his mother Jennifer, and Jessica Joyce watched as the sections were quickly placed on the lawn and secured together to create a 24-foot long, four-foot wide solid surface walkway from the front door ramp to the edge of the lawn. The lift on the bus will reach the end of the walkway, making a straight shot for Jennifer to get her son to the bus and back to the house each school day.

“This is just a temporary walkway that should get them through the winter, and then we’ll figure out something more long-term in the Spring,” Sween said.

“This was a good thing to do,” observed Will Schany. “We did it for Paul because he needed the help.”

“This is just so heartwarming that people are so willing to help,”?Joyce said. “It’s just a wonderful Christmas gift for Paul and Jennifer.”