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Catalytic converter

Catalyst Partnerships lends design, home-repair assistance to elderly and residents with disabilities


by: PHOTO FOR THE TIMES: ADAM WICKHAM - Troy Hall, right, works on building an accessability ramp for a recreational vehicle home spearheaded by the Catalyst Partnerships. The Beaverton organization provides volunteer labor to assist the elderly and disabled with home repairs and improvements.When volunteers with Catalyst Partnerships NW say they’re going to build a wheelchair ramp to access your trailer, don’t expect a couple boards being tacked up at the upper and lower ends in the space of an hour or two.

The new ramp leading up to the recreational vehicle Ruth Ford calls home could probably withstand a storm better than the RV itself. Designed and constructed with volunteer help coordinated through the 6-year-old nonprofit organization, the ramp exemplifies the care put into Catalyst’s projects: Solid, weather-treated wood. Joists. Posts. Pre-poured concrete slabs to stabilize the posts. Power saws. Drills. Levels.

In other words, it’s quality workmanship — straight from the heart.

Around 20 volunteers with varying construction skills and experience managed to complete the ramp in the space of last Saturday morning and afternoon — including a 30-minute break for pizza at lunch — at J&L Family Mobile Home Park on 117th Avenue in Cedar Hills.

For Troy Hall, a project crew chief with the “Band of Brothers” volunteer group at Solid Rock Church on the Beaverton-Tigard line, when like-minded people work together to help out someone in need, a day of construction doesn’t really seem like work.

“We like helping people,” he said. “We like working with our hands as well. Our group is all about learning from each other, teaching each other different skills. You learn life skills from that. Working with your hands together builds friendships.”

The project is a prime example of the 15 to 20 home improvement endeavors Catalyst Partnerships coordinates each year.

Shawn Mitchell, the organization’s executive director, said the spirit behind Catalyst is best described by its name.

“A catalyst in chemistry is that small agent that is needed to activate a change,” he explained. “For it to cause something to happen, you put two things together to form something else. But you need that spark.

“Part of our calling is to create the spark that will generate acts of compassion in the community,” he added. “One of our main focuses is not just doing building projects and helping with home building needs, but activating volunteers to serve their neighbors and help each other through acts of compassion.”by: PHOTO FOR THE TIMES: ADAM WICKHAM - Blair Emmett works on building an accessibility ramp for Ruth Ford's mobile home in Cedar Hills on Saturday morning as part of a Catalyst Partnerships improvement project.

From the ground up

A former minister at Solid Rock Church, Mitchell — along with a few families and helpful individuals — started Catalyst Partnerships in September 2007. The idea was an informal grass-roots approach to help neighbors who needed assistance with home repairs because of physical or financial limitations.

Catalyst registered as a public-benefit nonprofit corporation the next year, and in 2010 was incorporated as a 501(c)3 public charity. Since its formation, Catalyst has worked — often through partnering with local churches — with more than 1,100 volunteers who have donated more than 6,500 man-hours for projects in Oregon and Washington.

Led by an eight-member board of directors, Catalyst focuses mostly on projects around Washington County. The group also has branched out for projects in Clackamas County and North Portland, where another batch of volunteers spent last weekend putting on a new roof for a house in need.

“We’ve basically been growing slowly over the last six years,” Mitchell said. “Our reach tends to grow as we have volunteers from other areas.”

Mitchell, 46, a licensed contractor for nearly six years, said local church congregations provide a lot of Catalyst’s volunteer manpower for projects.

“One of the key components to our success is we have lots of great partnerships with churches,” he said. “We have really great relationships with pastors. People will hear of the projects we’re doing. Some churches identify needs in the community. They’ll remember Catalyst and fill out an application.

“That’s one of the ways we’ve been expanding,” he added. “Some volunteers come through friendships and a mouth-to-mouth network. It’s very grass roots.”by: PHOTO FOR THE TIMES: ADAM WICKHAM - Catalyst Partnerships volunteers Daniel Small, left, and Kelly Shaw work on a a new wheelchair-accessibility ramp to Ruth Ford's mobile home in Cedar Hills.

Making connections

Kelly Nelson, minister to college students at Beaverton First Baptist Church, knew Ford through the bible study group she leads at J&L Mobile Home Park. Hearing Ford had fallen twice and injured her knee on the makeshift stair ramp and at her RV home, Nelson checked with Andrea Nelson, the city of Beaverton’s community development block grant coordinator, before turning to Catalyst Partnerships.

“I heard Ruth fell,” Kelly Nelson said. “I knew the condition of the stairs. I tried to seek help through some resources in the city (of Beaverton). Andrea Nelson said because Ruth’s trailer was mobile, the city would not be able to do anything. We contacted Shawn. He really liked what we do through the bible study groups.”

After a bit of fundraising through her church and Catalyst’s resources, planning for Ford’s ramp got underway last spring.

“I don’t have a lot of budget,” Nelson said. “Most things I do, I have to do fundraising for.”

If the efficiency of the ramp project is any indication, Nelson looks forward to working with Catalyst Partnerships on future projects.

“They’ve been wonderful,” she said.

Jeremiah Milmore, Solid Rock Church’s operations director and another “Band of Brothers” volunteer, said he’s amazed how many building skills he’s picked up since joining in on Catalyst projects in recent years.

“I joined because I wanted to help out,” he said. “I’ve learned so many skills hands-on: plumbing, framing, drywall, fixing houses.

“Now that I’m a homeowner,” he adds, “it becomes very handy.”

Those who would like to get involved through donations, volunteering or to have their home worked on, visit the Catalyst Partnerships NW website at catalystnw.org.by: PHOTO FOR THE TIMES: ADAM WICKHAM - Troy Hall, center, works on an accessibility ramp for Ruth Ford's recreational vehicle home in Cedar Hills as part of a Catalyst Partnerships volunteer project.

Stairway from heaven

When Ruth Ford moved from a house on Beech Street to a fifth-wheel trailer in J&L Family Mobile Home Park, she ended up with a less-than reliable entrance to her new home.

"Those stairs were pretty high, and that put a little bitty square thing and a brick underneath," said Ford, 81, demonstrating with her hands how small the landing was. "You had this much room to hit the stair right. If you didn't hit it, you would fall."

Ford, in the three and a half years she's lived there, has fallen twice on the ramp, which was built for Ford, who uses a walker, as well as her daughter, Marissa, who is battling terminal cancer.

"I fell one time and hit my head pretty bad," the elder Ford said. "My knee also hurt."

Her regular bible study meetings, directed by Kelly Nelson of Beaverton First Baptist Church, led her to Catalyst Partnerships, a Beaverton-based volunteer organization that provides home improvement assistance to the elderly and those with disabilities.

In the space of last Saturday morning and afternoon, close to 20 volunteers started and completed a state-of-the-art wooden ramp to provide smooth access for Ford on her walker, or wheelchair if she needs one down the road. Although Marissa recently moved to Florida, her next visit to mom's place should be considerably smoother.

As she observed the efficiency and friendliness of the volunteers on a sunshiney Saturday, Ford was clearly grateful for the work being done to improve her life.

"If you fell as hard as I did, you would welcome a ladder to get up there," she said with a chuckle. "I am blessed so much by the people in this church. When you ask for something, if they've got it for you, they give it to you.

"I am just so happy to be getting something where I don't have to break my neck," she added. "God sent (the volunteers) to me. It's just wonderful."



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