The Inspiring Story of SAWs: How This Nonprofit Became an Accessibility Leader in Indiana by Building Ramps

SAWs Ramp First ramp build in Indiana

Since 2003, SAWs has been building ramps for people with disabilities, making them one of the leading nonprofits in Indiana. Learn their inspiring story and how you can help make a difference.

By Casey Call

A Family on a Mission

Rik and Becky Hagarty embarked on their journey of local service in the early 2000s with great enthusiasm. Rik was heading a local outreach program responsible for painting and landscaping. Multiple volunteers were sent by this program to different downtown areas for these efforts. After completing his three-year tenure in this role, he began to explore other means to contribute to the community. David Berry, the Second Presbyterian Missions Minister, proposed contacting a church in Ft. Wayne, Indiana that was constructing handicap ramps as a solution. Rik visited Ft. Wayne in the spring of 2003 and returned home full of energy and enthusiasm for the things he had learned.

In a conversation with a Medicaid case worker, he became aware of the necessity of constructing ramps.  Along with the knowledge of the specifics of how ramps were being constructed, upon his return, he imparted that information to the other members of the church. After finding interest in funding a ramp, the Mission group began searching for a client. Rik states that this was the only time he had to seek out a recipient. Noble Centers of Indiana, an organization focused on wellness for people with disabilities, enabled the fledgling group to find a client. Second Presbyterian members showed their generosity by starting their first ramp the weekend before Thanksgiving in 2003. According to Rik, “We knew absolutely nothing about building a ramp. We just started cutting and assembling and it slowly came together.”

Rik, his brother-in-law, a friend, another church member, and his two daughters walked into a frosty backyard with a bundle of lumber.  At the end of the first day, even though there was still more to be done, the mother of their client was thanking them profusely for helping them avoid the removal of her child by FSSA for safety reasons. That turned out to be the motivation to come up with a plan to keep doing their work. It is quite remarkable that Becky and Rik just happened to start two amazing organizations through the Second Presbyterian Mission Teams at about the same time – thanks to the blessings and support the Mission Teams provided.

The Beginning of an Organization

In the spring of 2004, both Rik and the Mission Team at Second Presbyterian agreed that building handicap ramps for people with disabilities was a huge need in the community. They developed criteria for potential clients that were primarily focused on disability and income level. They then created a plan for the year that included how many they targeted to build, what the costs would be, where the volunteers would come from, and where they would find the funding. Fortunately, the Mission Team at Second Presbyterian provided most of the required elements. Second Presbyterian Church remains to this day the largest donor of all the church partners.

Rik had contacts at several agencies such as Noble Center as well as a few hospitals from his previous search, so finding clients for ramp builds that year was much easier. They ended up building four ramps that year, all of which were for very deserving people.

In 2005, word of the effort had started to spread. Rik was approached by St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, another large church on the north side of Indianapolis to form a partnership, and the name was changed to Servants At Work. St. Luke’s had a large volunteer pool, including very dedicated gentlemen like David Boyer and Jim Hamilton. Along with Al Erickson from Second, they are the longest-serving volunteers for SAWs. David manages SAWS client relations in Indianapolis.  Jim is a Project Manager and Warehouse Manager.  Al now manages the project management software that organizes the effort. David, Jim, and Al have all served on the Board of Directors and are great examples of long-time contributors who have been very influential in SAWs’ success.

Fundraising was a challenge in the early years even though Second Presbyterian was incredibly generous. St. Luke’s had a member on the board of directors at CICOA (Central Indiana Council on Aging), which resulted in the introduction of their organization. CICOA had both the potential clients and funding for ramps, becoming one of the early donor organizations. There were individual donors in the early going but no large donors or grants. This put Rik’s background in sales to the test of generating the funds needed. At this point, Rik was interested in turning a “hobby” into an organization. He also knew this could no longer be a one-man show. So, a Board of Directors was formed to help run the growing company.

Then requests started to come from other parts of the state and the Indianapolis volunteers were not very interested in driving long distances regularly. One day in 2008, there was a call from Greencastle, so Rik called the Greencastle Presbyterian Church, and the concept of an “affiliate” was born. John Anderson was the leader of this effort and is still very active to this day. Affiliates can be churches or civic organizations that accept responsibility to manage a certain area and provide all the resources for SAWs to be successful, while SAWs provides the infrastructure and knowledge to make it happen. SAWs Takes Hold

SAWs Takes Hold

The organization continued to evolve as a Mission Outreach program, with some milestones along the way. The first website was created by a volunteer in 2008. The concept of project managers as a specific role for each ramp took hold. The very important concept of having a pre-build facility to cut and efficiently assemble the frames spread to multiple locations. The ability to expand the program was successful. Since some Foundations and large Funds would donate to a faith base organization but not to a church, in 2011 Servants At Work. Inc. was formed and approved by the Federal Government for 501C3 nonprofit status.  Separate from Second Presbyterian Church proved to be significantly helpful in fundraising but Second continued to be a large financial supporter.

After SAWs Inc. was formed, they started to build a master plan for the organization following Rik’s vision to become a national organization. Charlie Russell, a corporate executive with a marketing background stepped in to help with both the professionalism of marketing content and the master plan. The organization also decided to create the role of Executive Director to lead it. Charlie served as Executive Director until a permanent Director could be hired in 2018.

SAWs Ramps today

The 20th anniversary will happen in 2023 as SAWs approaches its 4,000th ramp, a milestone to be celebrated by many. SAWs coverage includes about 68 of Indiana’s 92 counties, including most of the major metropolitan areas.

SAWs also builds Virginia and Arizona, with new groups forming in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In 2022, SAWs constructed 425 ramps in Indiana, demonstrating that their efforts to establish a high-volume capacity are yielding positive results. There are currently over 200 people on the waiting list to receive their ramps.  This further confirms that ramps are greatly needed in most communities. The search for funding, volunteers, and partners never ends. If you are interested in exploring how you could help, please visit the website at

AJ’s new ramp, thanks to ‘Send the Love’ donors

Wright ramp family and volunteers

Early Saturday morning, volunteers from Boone County, Indiana, including Zionsville Christian Church and Project Manager Larry Whinnery, arrived at the site.

5 year-old “AJ”, his dad George, mom Julie, brother George, and twin brothers (4 months old) were thrilled to see the volunteers, and AJ, as his dad said, had asked every day this week, wanting to know when SAWs was coming.

First order of business was to remove AJ’s existing ramp.  The ramp in place was a simple steep platform that had been sending the adventurous and energetic AJ into the street with velocity.  It was time for an upgrade.

AJ and his family got involved with the build. AJ loved using the impact driver, and George generously provided lunch for the crew.

After a long day of hard work, the family was left with a new 31-foot, ADA-compliant, wooden ramp that would help AJ safely get to the school bus, play outside, and ensure his parents that he could grow in independence without fear of falling off his ramp.

Wright family on their new rampAJ’s ramp was a gift from over 150 donors throughout Indiana.  In May, WTHR’s Send the Love with Scott Swan featured Servants at Work, Inc, and asked their viewers to donate $5 to help build a ramp.  The response was simply amazing.  Viewers gave from $5 to $500, and totaled $4,340, which was able to cover the costs of materials for this special ramp for AJ.

Read the WTHR article here:  Thorntown 5-year-old gets new wheelchair ramp, thanks to $5 donations.

Photo credit : Carolyn Case at Media37

Mathew’s Story

Mathew is a middle school aged boy who has a permanent disability that confines him to his wheelchair. Mathew’s mother had been carrying him in and out of the home but could no longer physically do so. Recently, a team of 10 volunteers graciously gave their time and talents to build Mathew’s ramp. As the ramp was finished and Mathew came out to try it for the first-time tears of joy were shed by not just the family but by the crew of volunteers as well. In fact, one volunteer commented that even the dog cried! Mathew smiled from ear to ear. his was freedom! Freedom to go to school, freedom to play outside with his friends, freedom to be a young boy. Matthew’s ramp was made possible by our generous volunteers and donors.

Talica’s Story

We’ve all heard the expression “your life can change in an instant.” This past Fall, SAWs received a call to build a ramp for a young teenage girl. We were asked late in the season as the weather was beginning to turn cold and there were not many ramp-building Saturdays left; the schedule was full. It was suggested to Talica’s mother that March or April would be a better date. Then we learned the rest of the story.

Talica, a basketball player for Indianapolis Crispus Attucks High School, had just graduated in the Spring of 2020. Several weeks earlier, Talica and a friend were sitting in an apartment parking lot waiting on a friend to join them. Shots rang out and a stray bullet hit their car and struck Talicia. She would end up being paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

As we spoke with her mom, Talica was in rehab awaiting a safe way to get home in her wheelchair. Her story brought tears to our eyes and a passion to complete the project before the end of the season. SAWs volunteers went into action and immediately planned the build for the upcoming Saturday. For a Saturday in December, the Lord blessed the team with 60 degrees and sunshine all day. The usual SAWs ramp team of 6-8 volunteers swelled at one point to over 20 volunteers with willing hands and a giving heart.

As the build was being finished, Talica’s sister and mother, Shelicia, prepared a buffet of fried chicken, coleslaw, and drinks for the SAWs crew. As the final screws were being drilled in place, Shelicia called Talica and they FaceTimed with the Project Managers. She witnessed the completed ramp from her hospital bed. Talica could finally come home!

This is the essence of the SAWs mission.

Gloria’s Story

“When firemen know you by first name, it’s not so good.” Gloria said as she explained that the only times she had left her home in the past four years was when she called the fire department to take her to the hospital.

Gloria no longer has to call the fire department to leave her home. In fact, she roll down her new SAWs ramp to visit her neighbors, go to church or anywhere else she pleases. “God bless you,” she said through tears as she came out her door and onto her new ramp. “God bless my angels and may God bless you and be with you forever for this. This is freedom for me!”

Gloria’s words capture our mission. Celebrate Gloria’s freedom with us as well as St. Joseph County SAWs 100 ramp! Such a beautiful and heart warming video.

Hannah’s Story

Eight years ago, Hannah’s life suddenly changed when she was hit by a driver running through a red light. Her well-meaning husband found some spare plywood to build her a ramp that lasted for a little while, but with each year it’s deteriorating condition made it more dangerous to use. Finally, Hannah would only use it for emergencies for fear that it would give way at any time.

When SAWs volunteers built Hannah’s ramp, she could hardly contain her excitement. After cutting the ribbon at the top platform, she jubilantly cried, “I have my independence back!” and “Thank you! I love it, I absolutely love it!” as she rolled all the way down to celebrate her newfound freedom by having some lemonade and cookies with the volunteers who built it.

Because SAWs uses only treated lumber and builds to ADA standards, Hannah will be able to use her ramp for many years with the confidence that its sturdy construction will stand the test of time.

Melba’s Story

Melba and Roy had suffered a series of setbacks. Not only was Melba fighting cancer, but she had been doing so while living in a mold-infested home. Learning of an opportunity to move into a trailer near their daughter, they jumped at the chance. The only problem was that Melba used a walker and experienced a great deal of difficulty in entering and exiting the trailer.

When SAWs volunteers built Melba’s ramp, she was all smiles. Now she can safely get out to see her daughter whenever she likes, and her husband doesn’t have to worry about her trying to navigate a series of stairs with her walker. Everything from going to the doctor’s office to getting a breath of fresh air is easier and safer now that her ramp is installed.

Renee’s Story

Renee was enjoying her internship, preparing for a career in physical fitness, was just 21 when she was hit by a drunk driver and forced to abandon those plans, at least for the short-term. Because of injuries sustained during the accident, Renee spent several weeks in a rehabilitation facility with half of her body paralyzed. Once her condition had improved, the rehab facility required her to have a ramp installed at her home before they would discharge her. They knew that in order to enter her home, Renee would have to be able to climb fifteen stairs leading to her front door, an insurmountable task given her partial paralysis.

When SAWs learned of Renee’s dilemma, we immediately went to work. Because of the ramp we provided, Renee was able to return home the night before the installation. Upon completion of the ramp, Renee came onto her front porch, rolled to the ramp platform, cut the ribbon on her brand new ramp and traveled down to the bottom to enjoy some cookies and lemonade with SAWs volunteers. Renee continues to recover from the accident and in the meantime is able to get outside and connect with her community.