The temporary ramp that had previously been attached to Graham resident’s Alvaro Torralba home was put out onto the curb as The Elon Ramp Pilot Project arrived on Saturday, Feb. 3 to install a new wheelchair-accessible ramp. Torralba said he became wheelchair-bound four years ago due to a spinal injury.
Third-year Elon University physical therapy student Michelle Megurdichian has a background in medicine and was inspired to help Torralba.
“I came up with this idea, because in physical therapy, when you discharge patients from a hospital, which is a big part of physical therapy, it's kind of your job to make sure that they're having a safe discharge to wherever they're going,” Megurdichian said.
Her idea for creating the Elon Ramp Pilot Project is bigger than this one build, as Megurdichian said she aims to create an official organization.
“Insurance doesn't cover ramps. So I thought ‘Why don't we have a resource for clinicians and community members who might need a ramp at their home?’” Megurdichian said. “We can go ahead and build that one. So that's what we're doing here.”
Megurdichian previously applied to the American Physical Therapy Association of North Carolina for their Community Impact Challenge, twice. The Challenge awards $1,000 in funding to those in North Carolina who submit a proposal to help underserved and represented individuals living in their communities.
Megurdichian said this did not stop her, as she raised roughly $1,070 through setting up a GoFundMe campaign.
“I actually applied twice last year, and this year, I got denied both times,” Megurdichian said. “I ended up deciding: you know what, we have a person who needs a ramp, I had a contractor who is willing to volunteer his time, I had students who are willing to volunteer — so I thought let's go ahead and just put a GoFundMe out there.”
Brit Brancel is a project manager with Safe Living Solutions, LLC. — a Greensboro-based company that provides accessibility-based solutions to the Piedmont Triad. Brancel was also one of two local construction professionals who volunteered their time. He said that giving back has always been a priority to him.
“How you help people improve their life. It's very rewarding. It's the most rewarding construction I've ever done,” Brancel said.
Megurdichian said she was grateful to have Brancel’s help throughout the project.
“He's been so fantastic to work with and I really, really could not have been doing this without him,” Megurdichian said.
Mary Kay Hannah, associate professor of physical therapy at Elon, said that it is a real joy to see her students coming together outside the classroom and outside the clinic. Hannah also said she loves seeing her students take the initiative of impacting someone's life.
“It's one thing to teach someone how to use a wheelchair, teach someone how to move and take care of their business when they become a lifelong wheelchair user,” Hannah said. “It's another thing to get out of the clinic and see students help someone at the end of it, so I couldn't be more proud.”
Megurdichian said she hopes to continue doing this type of work after her time at Elon.
According to Megurdichian, the ramp was just the beginning of her aspirations in the area and she hopes to start a non-profit organization that would continue these projects for citizens in need.
With his new ramp, Torralba will be able to get in and out of his home independently.
"I'm really glad that people were willing to come out, but also excited to be involved in a project and make a difference in someone else's day,” Megurdchian said.
Mason Willett contributed to the reporting of this story.