Salt Lake City non-profit group helps elderly couple safely transport their disabled granddaughter

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah -- Louis and Debora Lopez have been taking care of their granddaughter with cerebral palsy since she was a baby. Yesenia Lopez is 17-years-old but she is not able to talk and she needs a wheelchair to get around. The elderly couple made a small ramp to try to get her in and out of the house but both kept falling and injuring themselves.

“It was scary,” said Debora. “I was home by myself one day and she was at school I slipped on the ramp.”

Louis was not able to work for more than four months after he fell off the ramp. “I tore my right shoulder when I slipped on the ramp,” Louis said. “My shoulder hit the side of the ramp.”

The grandfather works as a steel fabricator and did not make enough money to build a better ramp. The non-profit group Assist received the call for help and agreed to design and build a safer ramp.

“So there is this idea we can use architecture to solve social problems and that’s what I want to do with my profession and career,” said Jason Wheeler, ASSIST Executive Director.

ASSIST helps more than 600 low-income or disabled people each year mostly through funding from the federal government that is distributed to cities and counties.

For nearly five decades the Assist Community Design Center has provided architectural design services, community planning, development assistance to nonprofit and community groups, as well as emergency home repair assistance to low-income households and accessibility design assistance to individuals with reduced mobility or other disabilities.

Wheeler was able to design a 24-foot ramp that meets code but is also much safer for the Lopez family. “This is just one family of many we have helped but it’s very indicative that we give these families independence,” said Wheeler. “We help them to live their daily lives without having to be frustrated by architectural barriers.”

Here are some other examples of people helped by Assist:

  • An elderly man was living in a mobile home when the main water line broke. He called for help because he didn’t have any running water and he was unable to use his swamp cooler. A plumber came to help but found the man collapsed on the floor. The temperature inside the home had reached 120 degrees. The plumber called 911 and paramedics transported him to the hospital, likely saving his life.
  • A woman had been using a wheelchair since childhood but could never afford a single-level home to meet her needs. ASSIST was able to get funds to renovate her bathroom and kitchen for wheelchair access. The woman said this was the first time in her life that she had a home where she had access to a bathroom and could fix her own meals.

The Lopez family said the new ramp has finally made them feel safe while transporting their daughter.

“Without his help I would have difficulty bringing my granddaughter with the wheelchair because I’m alone during the day so building the ramp really helped me,” Debora said.

“They are helping our granddaughter and I really appreciate that,” added Louis. “The ramp has made it easier and safer for us and we are getting older and she is getting heavier.”

ASSIST's programs have helped thousands of individuals and families throughout Salt Lake County remain in their homes.  The average monthly income for households helped in the last few years is approximately $1,500, with 50 percent of these households below 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), and 92 percent below 50 percent AMI.

“Truly this program is helping our county's most vulnerable populations remain in their homes, contributing to neighborhood stabilization and safe and healthy communities,” Wheeler said.

People can call 211 to see if they are eligible for help from ASSIST or they can find more information at the organization’s website.