Annette Hatfield watched recently as a crew of about a dozen men built her a new life.
She spent much of the past year in a wheelchair as multiple sclerosis hindered her mobility. As her condition progressed, Hatfield, who lives in Seffner, found it increasingly difficult to navigate steps, including those leading down from her mobile home.
Some days she couldn't leave home.
But this month, Hatfield could see a chance for more independence as the Brandon Rotary Club got closer to finishing a ramp for her home as its annual service project.
"It's amazing," she said, sitting on her porch with her kitten Onyx, watching the club members work on the ramp. "These guys are phenomenal. I was not expecting anything like this."
The club got involved when John Gardener, Hatfield's attorney and a Rotarian, told fellow members about her plight after a call for project ideas. Hatfield had expected some help with donated materials, as she is unemployed and lives on a limited income. Instead, the club decided to take care of it all, from permitting to construction.
"We did a ramp last year for a disabled vet," said Chuck Colwill, the club's president. "It became such a great project we decided to do something similar."
Doug Hermansen, service projects chairman and a general contractor, rallied the members, drawing on their skills to move the project along. A structural engineer within the club drew up the plans. Hermansen donated his tools. Local businesses pitched in materials or provided them at a discount.
The crew, of course, worked for free.
By the end of the project, 65 percent of the club's membership participated in some way, cutting wood, nailing railings, digging dirt or pouring concrete.
The completed ramp wraps around Hatfield's porch and extends for about 50 feet, a gentle wooden slope that ends in concrete.
Mike Fencel, the club's vice president and the chief executive officer at Brandon Regional Hospital, worked with his son Jordan, 19, to attach the wooden railing with a nail gun.
"It's really kind of neat to see some of the talents (members) have and (put to use) outside their professional lives to help someone out," Mike Fencel said.
Jessica Raynor can be reached at [email protected]