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 https://www.sawsramps.org/