AHS Students Give Ella a Lift by Building Ramp

May 16, 2014

submitted by Patty langlais

Spring break is the time when many teens go on family vacations, hang with friends or even make college visits.  But a half dozen or so Alvirne High School students volunteered their time off to make life for a little girl in a wheelchair easier.

“That’s the best part of this town,” said Patricia Langlais, who kicked off an effort to get a wheelchair ramp constructed for to-year-old Ella Gordon who was diagnosed with a degenerative medical condition – spinal muscular atrophy – when she was a year old.  “We all come together when it comes to helping one another.”

Right now the genetic disorder is affecting the Ella’s legs.  She can sit up and scoot, but she can’t walk or stand and eventually her entire body will weaken.  When other toddlers are climbing and running around the playground at the child care center, staff at Stonewood gently left Ella and place her on the ground where she interacts with her friends.

In order to prepare for the years ahead, Ella’s family needs to have their van specially fitted with a wheelchair lift, and make their home – including doorways and bathrooms wheelchair accessible for Ella’s purple, power wheelchair which she got for Christmas.  But insurance does not cover those building expenses which will cost tens of thousands of dollars.

So the community rallied.  In the fall, staff at the child care center, as well as Ella’s family and friends and some other volunteers, parked cars at the Pumpkin Festival to raise money for the materials for the ramp.

From there, John Conrad, head of the Building Trades program at Alvirne, had two of his classes build the ramp in the shop as part of their class, which also included meeting with an architect and a town building inspector to go over the plans.

Once the construction was complete, Conrad asked for student volunteers to install the ramp under his guidance and with the help of local contractor, Lee Lavoie, during spring break.  “There were no shortage of boys and girls who stepped up to the task when we asked,” said Conrad.  “Community service is a core value at Alvirne and this fit right in with that.”

So why would a teenager give up a few precious days off from school to work side-by-side with his teacher and fellow students?  It’s the right thing to do and we’re helping people,” said sophomore, Tom Labrie.

Two days of hard work later, Ella was able to go through her front door on her own for the first time.  When asked where she will go with her wheelchair, now that the ramp is installed, she said “outside, Boston and the mall.”  And when her teacher, Miss Patty, asked her what she tells people who will get in her way, the little girl didn’t hesitate.  “I say, ‘excuse me.’”

Ella and her family also say, “thank you,” to the teens, teachers and others who have come together for their daughter.

If you’d like to donate to the fund to raise money for the accommodations to be made for Ella’s home, go to GoFundMe.com and look for Cristle Gordon.  There will also be a spaghetti supper fundraiser sponsored by St. Francis Church in Litchfield at Campbell High School in Litchfield, May 31, 4-8 p.m.