Jen School students honor their 'Ramp Man'
Retired teacher Paul Bartholomae is known as the "Ramp Man" at Maryville Jen School in Des Plaines.
Bartholomae has worked closely with Jen School building-trade students to assemble metal wheelchair ramps for the elderly in Des Plaines.
Recently, at the fifth annual Jammin' with Jen fundraiser celebrating Jen School's 12th year, Bartholomae was presented with a gift made by his students. The hand-painted and crafted sign said "Paul's Shop," and was made to honor him. The faculty and students wanted to thank Bartholomae for his training and encouragement.
According to Rosemary Argus, executive director of the Des Plaines Community Foundation, the Ramp Program is a great asset for the students who are eager to learn construction skills -- helping the community is an added boost.
"What makes the program so successful is the cooperation among the students," said Bartholomae, a retired 34-year veteran instructor. "The plan has been to divvy up tasks and bring different strengths to the table. And they work just like a real-life crew. It is really a hands-on experience for some of these students, and the experience can turn into a future career."
It can take anywhere from six weeks for an aluminum ramp and three months to build a wooden ramp, depending on the size.
The city's Department of Health and Human Services forwards requests for wheelchair ramps to Argus and the Des Plaines Community Foundation, which relays them to Bartholomae.
"We currently have a ramp that has been reused for Des Plaines residents for the fifth time," he said.
This is the 47th ramp the Des Plaines Community Foundation has funded and had built for needy residents under the guidance and tutelage of Bartholomae.
"This student crew completed the ramp for an elderly woman who is wheelchair bound in the community," Bartholomae said. "It was a difficult task to install the ramp around the existing tree, but they succeeded.
Approximately 10 Jen School students put the ramp together with the assistance of Bartholomae. The $6,000 cost was donated by the foundation.
"The ramps are the most important thing we do for the Des Plaines residents in need," said Bartholomae. "It becomes a problem when the elderly or disabled can't get out of their homes to get to the doctor."
At the time he retired in 2016, Bartholomae and his students had just completed the 43rd ramp, several new sheds, shelving and picnic tables at The Homestead at Maine West High School.
Many of the students have preferential learning styles, like hands-on and visual learning. These alternative learning styles help expose the students to experiential learning -- for example construction or subcontractor jobs.
Jen School parents Dee and Bill Weiler sat at Bartholomae's table at the Jammin' with Jen fundraiser and asked Bartholomae about their 17-year-old son Danny, who is a building-trade student at Jen School. Bartholomae told them how Danny loved to build the ramps and how quickly he caught on to the process.
"Jen School has really been great for Danny," said Dee Weiler. "He gets hands-on vocational opportunities at Jen School. He is able to feel more confident in his achievements, and he really does enjoy building the ramps and helping people, as well as giving back to the community. He especially enjoyed working with Paul and learning building-trade skills."
Though he is retired, Bartholomae is continuing to volunteer his time with students and the Des Plaines Community Foundation board and Jen School.
"The Des Plaines Community Foundation appreciates Paul Bartholomae and sincerely thanks him for his work with the Jen School students in Des Plaines," said Argus.
"These local kids have come to the aid of many residents that needed assistance," Argus said. "During winter, they have shoveled snow for residents. During spring and summer, they have mowed lawns and cut bushes."
Some of the Des Plaines Community Foundation programs include: Neighbors Helping Neighbors Program Committee; Healthy Community/Healthy Youth Program Committee; Intergenerational Program Committee; and Seasons of Service program Committee.
The foundation is 100% volunteer. The Des Plaines Community Foundation is a 501(c) 3 organization and funds are obtained from individuals, businesses and corporate tax-deductible contributions, as well as from other foundations.
For information, call Rosemary Argus at (847) 525-5566 or visit www.desplainescommunityfoundation.org.