DOBBINS HEIGHTS — Willie Tender has been losing his sight for 20 years and is now 90 percent blind, but that hasn’t stopped him from being as independent as possible.
Tender, 73, who was part of the crew who built the U.S.S. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the 1970s, lives alone in Dobbins Heights. Being on a fixed income, the only ramp he could afford to build to help him get in and out of his house wasn’t up to code and ultimately did more harm than good. It was too steep and didn’t have handrails, causing to Tender to fall multiple times over the years.
When Tender had medical problems during the snowfall earlier this month, the ramp’s slope, combined with the ice, forced the EMS workers who came to pick him up to lay his bed sheets over the ramp to safely wheel him into the ambulance.
In Spring 2017, his brother, Edward, an active volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of the NC Sandhills, called the nonprofit to see if they could replace what he called a “hazard.”
Habitat obliged. Following the application process, 10 volunteers arrived at Tender’s house at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning and had the new, gently sloping 26-foot ramp with sturdy handrails finished by 11 a.m. The volunteers were affiliated with the North Carolina Baptist Men, AMVETS Post 316, the VFW and Habitat.
“God is good,” Tender said. “My prayers have been answered.”
He made his first journey down the ramp before it was finished when he decided he wanted to go across the street and, to the surprise of the volunteers, made it down safely. Once completed, he walked it again saying it was “a whole lot different” than his old ramp. The volunteers all signed a Bible as a gift to Tender, and Dennis Holloway, team leader with the NC Baptist Men, led the group in prayer.
Tender’s ramp is part of an effort by Enviva Biomass to support the community surrounding its new wood pellet processing plant which is scheduled to be up and running by December. The company has funded five projects, three with Habitat and two with Military Missions in Action, to be completed by the end of March.
Rob McCulloch, public affairs and community relations manager for Enviva, said the contribution is the first of what will be an ongoing effort to support charitable organizations in the company’s new home.
“This is so vital for the community,” said Jim Entwistle, construction supervisor with Habitat. “It’s God’s work.”
Johnny Patrick was one of the volunteers who worked on the ramp. He said ramps are essential to disabled individuals living the best life they can.
“It’s really satisfying knowing we did something to help somebody,” Patrick said.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]