TALLAHASSEE – Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spend most of their time teaching the gospel – but they also devote regular hours to service in the community.
Missionaries serving in the Tallahassee Stake – which includes congregations in Tallahassee (7), Thomasville, Cairo, Quincy, Crawfordville, Perry, and Madison—have found such an opportunity with Ability1st, the Center for Independent Living of North Florida.
LDS Missionaries on a completed ramp
The nonprofit organization provides support services and equipment, information, and advocacy to people with disabilities so they can live independently. One of their most-needed programs is to build outdoor ramps and “half-steps,” which are shallower and easier to climb than those of regular dimension. Since this construction is done outside, the missionaries have been able to volunteer to help with it even during the recent quarantine.
“We could not have kept the projects going during the pandemic without the elders and sister missionaries,” said Marquesas Blimes, Access to Independence Program Coordinator at Ability1st. “They go above and beyond, and they’re the first people we call. In fact, almost every project done in Leon county between May and now was done by the missionaries. They’ve been amazing.”
Elder Ethan Eliason of Gilbert, Arizona explained that the missionaries are notified almost weekly, sometimes twice a week, to volunteer—and they love the work. “Ability1st is a great organization, and we’re happy to be part of this.”
The missionaries’ most frequent assignment, he said, is building ramps and half-steps, guided by a professional contractor who works with Ability1st. These projects normally are completed in a day. While mission safety rules prohibit the use of saws or power tools, Eliason said the elders “do a lot of putting it all together.”
Elder Braunson Young of Spokane, Washington described the procedure they usually follow.
“We do lots of manual labor, digging post holes, moving wood, screwing wood pieces together,” Young said. “The contractor has all the experience and knows
LDS Missionaries at work making a home accessible
what to do, and he gives us direction on how to help assemble the ramps and steps.”
Eliason said he appreciates learning the skill of building ramps and doing an aspect of woodworking that he may use later. “Most of all, it’s enjoyable to know that people benefit from these projects now and that they will for many years to come.”
Young echoed the thought that giver and receiver are equally enriched when service is performed.
“I really enjoy being able to volunteer with Ability1st and spend some time each week to help people,” he said. “In service to others, I grow, and these projects help improve people’s lives for years and years. It’s a great experience!”
Also engaged in service at Ability1st, the women missionaries often help at the Tallahassee headquarters. They work with the medical equipment loan project—which includes beds, chairs, wheelchairs, lifts, etc. They assemble, clean, refurbish, organize, and sometimes deliver the equipment, which is loaned to those in need.
LDS Missionaries at work building a ramp
“The sisters are here at least twice a month—they’re really sweet and helpful,” Blimes said. “Also, recently a handful of missionaries helped us move furniture to housing for needy clients who had been homeless. And missionaries in the Wakulla/Crawfordville area came out on a build, and I didn’t even expect them. They just showed up. I never cease to be impressed by the missionaries.”
According to Blimes, the aid afforded by ramps, half-steps, and medical equipment could not be more vital. It allows people to remain at home and to be mobile—to go places, visit family, participate in the community. She praised Latter-day Saint missionaries for their willingness to help achieve these ends.
“Honestly, I could call the missionaries right now,” she said, “and unless they already had another appointment, they’d be here in the morning ready to go. They are awesome.”
Operated “by people with disabilities for people with disabilities,” community-based Ability1st serves Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Gadsden, and Wakulla counties. For more information, go to ability1st.info.