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Students team up on project to help local man after surgery
Students from Martinsville High School and their instructors work on constructing a handicap ramp at the back door for the home of Doug Wilcox in Martinsville. “I feel like I’ve been in jail since I had my surgery,” said 62-year-old Wilcox, whose right leg was amputated below the knee in May. The students teamed up with Henry County students and Habitat for Humanity. (Bulletin photos)
For Doug Wilcox, the work Henry County and Martinsville high school students have done to build and install a handicapped ramp to the back porch of his home means freedom.
“I feel like I’ve been in jail since I had my surgery,” said 62-year-old Wilcox, whose right leg was amputated below the knee in May as a result of Charcot foot (a condition causing weakening of the bones in the foot), diabetes and an infection.
Wilcox, who is in a wheelchair, said that since his surgery he has been pretty much confined to his house on Graves Street, except for going to the doctor. Even those occasions required the assistance of at least two people, he said.
Nancy Moore, executive director of Habitat for Humanity-Martinsville and Henry County, said Mike Bryant of Patrick Henry Community College recommended Wilcox to Habitat for the ramp project. According to Moore and Wilcox, Habitat arranged for the county and city students to provide the volunteer labor and Wilcox supplied the materials.
Moore said Bryant paid the fees for the building permits.
For about a month, under the instruction and guidance of Kent Wright and Ken Robertson, adjunct professors at PHCC, 25 building trades/carpentry students from Bassett, Magna Vista and Martinsville high schools have been working on the ramp project, according to Wright and Robertson.
Wright said the classes of 12 county students and 13 city students each spent about 75 minutes each class day on such things as designing and building most of the ramp on campus, other related instruction and disassembling the ramp to take it to Wilcox’s home for reassembly. A portion of the ramp had to be built on site, Wright said.
Moore said students were taught safety and practiced using the tools before they went on site.
Wright said it’s a 53-foot-long handicapped ramp with two turns, built to Americans With Disability Act and International Building Code regulations. It is built with pressure-treated lumber.
At noon Thursday, students from Martinsville High School arrived at Wilcox’s house and immediately went to work — no goofing off.
“We’ve got great kids,” Wright said.
Several students said in interviews they feel doing the project is rewarding because they are helping Wilcox and they are learning carpentry skills.
“I feel good about it — helping people out,” said senior Austin Lawson. Junior Kevin Graham used almost the exact same words.
Austin said he had learned such things as how to dig post holes with tools.
“I’ve learned things about (working with) wood,” Kevin said. He added “it’s cool to be working on this stuff.... In the future, you’ll really know how to do it when you’re on your own.”
Seniors La Quain Law and Elexis Davis also said they like helping Wilcox and learning carpentry skills.
“I’ve learned a whole lot,” such as marking and cutting wood, said La Quain, who is considering carpentry as a career. “I just like building stuff with different tools,” he said.
“We’re doing it for a good cause,” said Elexis, the only girl in the class from MHS. Learning carpentry is “a backup plan” for her, she said. She added she hopes to go into culinary arts and have a restaurant.
Wright and Robertson both commended the students. “They have (really) been working,” Robertson said.
Wilcox also commended the students.
“It’s been a godsend,” he said of the project. “I really appreciate what they’re doing.”
“We’re just trying to fill a dire need,” Moore said.
“I’m sympathetic to his (Wilcox’s) problem,” Wright said. People don’t want to be labeled, “‘I’m disabled.’ You treat people as normal as you can.”
Wilcox said since his surgery, he feels the best he has in years, and he is looking forward to getting a prosthetic leg soon, “so I can walk.”
Before retiring, Wilcox worked 40 years in retail. That included about 18 years working for J.C. Penney in Norfolk and locally (including as senior merchandiser) and 18 years with Dyno Tees in Collinsville, which he owned, he said. He lives at the home on Graves Street with his wife, Patty.