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RAMP FOR KATIE SAWTELL- Three groups come together to help long-time church member

Written by Chronicle Staff. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on July 06, 2016 with No Comments

By Steve Euvino

Pictured in the front, Katie Sawtell; pictured in the second row is Jonah Besch and Jason Carter (and his son) from Thrivent Financial, Third row is Matt Korus an Americorp volunteer and Wes Chubb, Lowe's Store Manager and pictured in the middle back row is Brian Johnson from Habitat for Humanity and volunteers from First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso (to the left and right of Brian).

What do you give a woman after 99 years and so many months? How about a safe means of getting in and out of her house?

After picking up Katie Sawtell one Sunday for church, Dan Higgins decided the woman who will soon turn 100 needed a ramp. Then came the challenge: How much would a ramp cost and who would build it?

Enter First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso, Thrivent Financial, and Habitat for Humanity of Porter County. They came together to make the ramp a reality for the Valparaiso woman who has lived in her home since 1942.

Their combined efforts came to fruition the weekend of June 11-12, as volunteers from all three groups, working in 90-degree weather, built the 34-foot-long ramp.

“She asked me if I knew anyone who could build her a ramp,” said Higgins, who then consulted their church for ideas.

As the Rev. Mark Mueller, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso, explained, church members discussed the ramp project and “we agreed it was a great idea. It was an opportunity to partner with Thrivent and Habitat.”

The church approved a contract with Thrivent and Habitat on May 29, then called for volunteers over the next two weeks.

“The turnout is great,” Pastor Mueller said. “We’ve got 10-12 guys – an ideal group who wanted to do it ourselves.”

The foundation for the ramp was poured the previous Tuesday. City inspectors then approved the project, after which volunteers spent two days building the ramp and replacing the front door.

The project cost an estimated $2,500, which Thrivent Financial sponsored. Thrivent is a faith-based financial services and planning firm. A nonprofit, Fortune 500 company, Thrivent seeks to blend faith, finances, and generosity to help members thrive. As Jason Carter, a Thrivent financial consultant, explained, the company supports programs that help build stronger families, churches, and communities.

“We connected with First Presbyterian and identified a need in the community with Katie,” Carter said. “We put together a block grant for the project. The church provided labor, and Habitat provided the expertise, coordinating the project.”

A local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, Habitat of Porter County has been in existence since 1994. It is dedicated to making housing affordable in Porter County by “providing a hand up, not a handout.”

Since its founding, the Habitat affiliate has completed 21 houses, serving 63 people in 21 families.

Brian Johnson, executive director of the Porter County Habitat, was there with the volunteers, a “good group of guys,” as he called them.

Habitat, he said, typically builds three ramps and that many homes annually. The local affiliate takes applications for building projects, as candidates must meet basic requirements for qualifying. Johnson said Habitat wants to build more affordable housing in Porter County.

Johnson described this latest ramp project as “pretty standard.” While Habitat staff are on hand to provide professional expertise, the real satisfaction, the director said, comes from “seeing people having their needs met and working with the volunteers. These volunteers work together and are able to see these families getting what they need.”

While volunteers were assembling the wooden ramp, Sawtell worked indoors on a 300-word puzzle. A lifelong member of First Presbyterian who was baptized in the church, she said her late husband repaired watches for many of its members.

Having been on a walker for six months, Sawtell recalled, “Dan Higgins came out to take me to church and said, ‘You need a ramp.’ Then he started getting into the project.”

She added, “These are wonderful people, but I feel sorry. It’s so hot outside. I really appreciate that they are doing this on a hot day and not waiting on a cooler day.”

Higgins was among the ramp volunteers who, upon realizing he could not do the project by himself, said, “Katie is happy as a lark and I’m as happy as a lark. This worked out well.”

As for the 99-year-old Katie Sawtell, Higgins added, “She’s mentally sharp and very grateful.”

For more information on Habitat for Humanity of Porter County call 219-531-0359 or visit . To learn more about Thrivent Financial charities visit .

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