For more than 25 years, Joe Burkhead has spearheaded efforts to build ramps for disabled people across Western Kentucky.

But with an aging and dwindling volunteer pool threatening the longevity of the ministry, Burkhead is putting out an urgent call for more help.

"The need is one of the greatest needs in our area. People get held captive in their own house," said Burkhead, who first organized the Reidland United Methodist men's ministry into a ramp-building machine in the early '90s.

He was 45 at the time.

Now, at 70, Burkhead has seen volunteers come and go, but the current state of his regulars, he said, is "less and older."

Not that they don't do good work -- Burkhead and the crew were at it again Thursday, building a longer-than-usual ramp at a mobile home off Jackson Street.

Their segmented designs are fairly cookie cutter and, if the recipient of a ramp passes away, the ministry reclaims the ramp and uses pieces from it for another structure.

The manual work doesn't require a lot of expertise, said Burkhead.

"Anybody that's able to handle a screwdriver," he said, would be welcomed with open arms.

"We'd be happy with churches or small groups," Burkhead said, inviting even individuals who can contribute one day out of their week.

In the past 25 years, the group has built over 800 ramps in the area, and tries to get one constructed each week.

Speaking of Thursday's project, Burkhead said the ramp would cost $2,000 or more if a contractor built it.

Though most of the builders hail from the Methodist church, there's no denominational or even religious requirement to volunteer.

Keith Williams, who attends Relevant Church, joined the group about six years ago, and said that, at 49, he's glad to be able to bring some more-youthful energy to the ministry.

Williams said he became interested in building ramps after his grandmother in Tennessee benefited from an Easterseals group building her one for free.

"Right after that, I had moved to Paducah and I put in several ramps around Paducah for people that I knew needed it," said Williams, who formerly operated the city's Outback Steakhouse.

Before he officially signed on with Burkhead's group, Williams would gather volunteers from his employees and call their contributions the "Outback ramps."

"This is where I feel happy," he said. "I don't know if it puts me closer to my grandmother or closer to God."

Because Williams and another 54-year-old volunteer are the only regular builders under 70, the need is getting urgent for more recruitment.

"If we don't get volunteers it's gonna die," Williams said of the ministry.

Burkhead said even he gets "exhausted," and he's noticed former volunteers and volunteers with other groups succumb to burnout after years of service.

But for him, the need is too great to quit while he still has something left to give.

"I'm burned out, but I'm not going to quit because the need is so critical."

Those interested in volunteering may contact Burkhead at 270-210-7075 or rjburkhead@att.net, or contact Reidland United Methodist Church at 270-898-2115.

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