Jacksonville family gets new ramp after home’s access ramp collapsed

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The James Russell Fund, Builders Care and Summit Contracting Group joined forces to build a brand-new wheelchair accessible ramp for a Jacksonville family.
“There’s no words. There’s just absolutely no way to thank them enough. I mean my child is severely disabled and there’s no way I could possibly do this myself,” said mother Vicki Smith, the homeowner.

The act of generosity comes after Smith recently collapsed through the family’s home access ramp.

“People take access in and out of their homes for granted. For instance, for Vicki, when she fell through the ramp, now all of a sudden her whole life is unstable because she doesn’t want to go out, doesn’t want her daughter to go out of the house. Handicap accessibility is huge and we see it as a problem. The city has a yearlong waiting list,” said Justin Brown, executive director of Builders Care.

The nonprofit provides critical home repairs to low-income residents. The organization has helped many people throughout Northeast Florida fixed several things in their homes. Builders Care’s ultimate goal is to provide home reconstruction to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it.

“There’s issues like this all throughout Jacksonville and there’s a lot of people that need help and they can’t really do much about it. So it’s just great raising awareness for that to help people with these issues. You know, help them have a healthier life and not get injured trying to get into their homes,” said Bryan Bennett, director of public relations at Summit Contracting Group Inc.
While this is the first time these three organizations have worked together, James Russell is no stranger to community service. Russell is 22 years old and had cerebral palsy since he was born, but he doesn’t let that slow him down. He believes in putting his community first, which is why he created his nonprofit organization. The James Russell Foundation was completed to help the community in any and every way.

“The city of Jacksonville, helped me out so much. So I want to give back to my community,” said Russell, president of the James Russell Fund. “I want more people to have access to get into their home.”

The funds for this project were raised through a silent auction and volunteers from all three organizations donated their time for the labor. Through that silent auction, there was enough money raised to rebuild five more ramps.

“I’m just really really grateful,” Smith said.

Organizations like these are making the community better one project at a time.


1 Year Later: Some Of Irma’s Hardest Hit In Jacksonville

Rewind 12 months. Jacksonville was dealing with the aftermath of Irma. That meant lots of people were staying in hotels or with friends while their homes were gutted and restored.

But that wasn’t the case for every flooded neighborhood, like the Northwest Jacksonville community of Ken Knight Drive, made up of side-by-side roughly 700-square-foot townhouses and some 900-square-foot duplexes.

About 10 days post Irma, Linda Bennett was still living in her flooded house with two daughters and three grandkids.

About three feet of water had spilled into her home from the nearby Ribault River, along with several streets of houses in this low-income area. In Bennett’s home, the floors and beds were soaked, smelling of mildew, along with a slew of other damage: plumbing and electrical issues as well as malfunctioning appliances.

“I am very worried about me not only getting sick but grandkids getting sick,” she said that day in 2017, sitting on the edge of a damp mattress.

A year later her house is still being repaired.

“You know how it was when you came out here the last time,” she said Wednesday. “It was really bad and it was like stank out of here.”

She said living that way for several months was really stressful, but hotels accepting FEMA vouchers were booked up and she didn’t want to burden others by staying About four months after Irma, volunteers helped tear out her destroyed drywall, but left the bathroom walls intact for privacy. Not long after, Justin Brown, Executive Director of the nonprofit Builder’s Care, rebuilt her walls.

“When I walked into that bathroom it was like a punch in my lungs. It was so moldy and mildewy and I was like we need to get in here as fast as we can,” Brown said.

He said her home was one of the first his organization — the charitable arm of Northeast Florida Builders Association — chose to work on in the area.

Another organization, Yellow House, paid for her family to stay in a hotel.

“I think we’ve gotten about seven families back into safe living in the Ken Knight Drive area,” Brown said. “We just started on two more.”

Bennett’s home is still waiting on new windows. Several homes in the area still have tarps over their roofs, and many are boarded up. Brown believes they probably belong to landlords who don’t want to pay to fix them.

Most people he talks with are surprised to learn many living in communities like Ken Knight Drive are still living in mold-infested homes.
Long Term Recovery
Builder’s Care was funded by only private donations when Brown started the after-Irma work, but now he has grants including one from the First Coast Relief Fund.

“We were able to do 71 roof repairs with the $100,000 they gave us,” he said.

He says that’s thanks to the Northeast Florida Long Term Recovery Organization, which has in part helped link nonprofits together, shared data with them and helped them apply for funding.

Brown said he didn’t have experience applying for grants, but now he has several because the recovery organization helped him.

And that’s also how he started working with Yellow House, directed by activist Hope McMath.

She’s been working as sort of an unofficial case manager for many of the families over the past year, focusing on the human side of recovery, getting families appliances, and social services.

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which has donated materials in the Ken Knight area and supplied volunteers, is also coordinating with McMath and Brown from Builder’s Care.

The Northeast Florida Long Term Recovery Organization is made up of more than 40 nonprofits and other organizations aiding in post-Irma recovery.

Deirdre Conner, with the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, helped with getting the Long Term Recovery Organization started. She said this is the first time in recent history Jacksonville has needed long term recovery.

“To give you an idea, in Hurricane Matthew there were about 3,600 claims filed to FEMA in Duval County. After Hurricane Irma there were 112,000,” Conner said.

Other cities use the same model after disasters — the one helping Hurricane Sandy victims just recently stopped doing its work six years later.

“Many of the folks that the Long term recovery organization is seeking to assist are people who are often invisible to the wider community, and the impact of the hurricane was disporportant to folks who were already underserved,” she said.

For people who have trouble recovering on their own — like the elderly, disabled and low-income — at least $4 million in damage remains, according to a recent assessment, and that’s likely just a fraction of true need, Conner said.

More Money On The Way

Something that may help is a recent grant from the United Arab Emirates. It’s giving the city more than $2.7 million, and a large chunk of that is earmarked for Ken Knight Drive home repairs and infrastructure. And that Includes a quarter-million for Builder’s Care.

The grant summary reads in part:

“The neighborhood is comprised of a very high-concentration of individuals and families at or below the poverty level who are renting costly and poor quality homes from absentee landlords or are residing in the nearby public housing development, Washington Heights. Due to both the past foreclosure crises and the recent hurricanes, the landlords did not make the needed repairs to their rental units and families are still residing in dilapidated homes with unsanitary conditions.”

Brown is already surveying neighbors about what upgrades are most needed.

Still Need Help?

People still needing after-Irma help can call the 211 to get in the pipeline for recovery services. And others who want to help with the efforts can call the Northeast Florida Long Term Recovery Organization or any of its partners.


Builders Care for the needy

Builders Care works with businesses and individuals to identify and assist members of the community whose home repair or maintenance projects are beyond the homeowners’ resources to complete.
Northeast Florida Builders Association
“Our partnership with Stellar Energy reflects the typical situation we face when we receive a call for help,” said Justin Brown, Builders Care executive director. “Wheelchair ramps and roof repairs are perhaps our most frequently requested service, but for us each project can vary from a few hours work to several days.”
These projects are a representation of the people we serve:

• A veteran injured during Operation Desert Storm was living in a home that had been partially restored, but the project was abandoned before it was finished. The assessment of the home revealed a small section of the roof had water leakage over the pantry. The pantry itself had water damage in the wall and ceiling. All existing paneling and insulation needed to be removed, mold treatment applied, and new sheetrock installed and painted. The kitchen floor needed to be replaced with vinyl tile. The kitchen wall and ceiling sheetrock needed to be finished and painted.

• A caller’s brother and 20-month-old son are both confined to a wheelchair. The son is paralyzed. An existing ramp needed to be replaced due to severe weather damage and rot. The 20-month-old child requires an oxygen tank, which is attached to the wheelchair. The ramp needed to be widened and relocated to the driveway.

• Two elderly women both needed assistance with wheelchair ramps. One woman simply needed a replacement ramp. Hers had rotted out and planks were missing, and it presented a risk every time she used it. The other woman had recently been widowed, was 90 percent disabled and dependent on oxygen.

Stellar Energy supports Builders Care by providing highly skilled labor to build wheelchair ramps and hand rails for elderly and disabled residents in need. The ramps are constructed in the company’s fabrication facility and then transported and installed to provide residents safe access to and from their homes.
“We work with a limited budget, and Builders Care can usually accomplish two ramps a month, along with four roof repairs,” Brown said. “This partnership with Stellar Energy has substantially increased our ability to respond.”

For information about how you or your company can partner with Builders Care to help provide safe, healthy housing for Jacksonville’s most vulnerable residents, call (904) 727-3443, or visit online at

Providence Homes


Wells Fargo

Eagle View Windows & Doors

McAneny Builders


MasterCraft Builder Group

Wood Development

Miranda Contracting

Matovina & Co.

New Leaf Construction

LGI Homes

Chet & Sarah Skinner

Synovus Bank

First Coast Supply

Lendry Homes

Davidson Realty

LP Building Products

Doug Wenzel

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84 Lumber

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Garmon Trucking

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CC Underwood, Sellin’ with CC Team

SG Jones International

Judith Sisler Johnson

The Silverfield Group

Garmon Trucking

CornerStone Homes Realty


The Mendenhall Report: Builders giving back to Beaches Life…

The Mendenhall Report: Builders giving back to Beaches Life Saving Corps
Lifeguards get upgrades to locker room thanks to NEFBA.

Sunday’s annual ceremony in Jacksonville Beach officially opening the Beaches for 2019 doubled as a christening for the Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps’ upgraded facility.

The Corps cheered more than $33,500 in upgrades to the building’s locker room facilities completed April 26 with the help of the Northeast Florida Builders Association.

According to NEFBA President Sean Junker, the Corps asked the builders association’s Builders Care nonprofit charitable arm two months ago for assistance with its outdated locker room facilities.
The Red Cross needed to increase the size of the women’s locker room at its Jacksonville Beach facility because of the increasing number of female Corps members.

The building was constructed in 1948 and, according to Junker, it had been 20 years since the locker rooms were upgraded.

The plan this time was to remove and replace a wall, reducing the size of the men’s locker room while increasing square footage in the women’s facility.

Builders Care was founded in 2001 to provide affordable or no-cost construction services to the elderly, disabled and nonprofit organizations in northeast Florida.

The request didn’t fall under the Builders Care residential framework, but Junker, president and CEO of Providence Homes, and B&G Plumbing Co. co-founder Gene Rover thought it would be a good project for NEFBA members.

“We were listening to those guys and it really just kind of touched us as we learned about what these young men and women do to protect our beaches,” Junker said.

Junker and Rover rallied NEFBA members for materials and labor for the project.

Lifeguard volunteers took on the initial demolition April 13-14. The group of NEFBA volunteer companies then came for the new construction.

Ten NEFBA member companies participated in the improvement project, including providing electrical, plumbing, HVAC, tile, framing, drywall and painting services.

After the NEFBA donation, the Life Saving Corps paid only $3,877, or 15% of the total retail cost of the improvements.

Rover said the Corps’ total project budget was $7,500 and it will be able to invest the remaining funds in further Red Cross building upgrades.

“These guys stepped up to the plate, used our skill set to reduce prices of materials and labor and pass that along to them for significant savings,” Junker said.

Rover added, “These (Corps) kids do so much for this city that people don’t have a clue. Their board is constantly out fundraising. It was just the right time.”


Home from the Heart’ benefits Builders Care

Providence Homes held the grand opening of its “Home from the Heart” at The Crossing in Nocatee on April 11.

The house was built with donated goods and services by Providence Homes and its vendors.

The home was sold and is in the closing process.

Profits from the sale, expected to be more than $100,000, will benefit Builders Care, the Northeast Florida Builders Association charity to help people in need with home repairs.

Trade partners and manufacturers who donated their time and materials: A & G Construction, Advanced Trim Solutions, Air Flow Designs, Amason’s, American Insulators, Apex Technology, Beacon Sales, Bobby Campbell Roofing, Bouziane Tie-Down, Builders First Source, Cornerstone Paint, D & D Garage Doors, Donna Stanton, Duncan Plumbing, Environmental Materials, First Coast Supply, First Quality Gas, Group 4 Design, Hicks Land Clearing, Hicks Trucking & Fill, Italian Terrazzo, Jax Building Science, Jean Alix Compere, Legacy Engineering, Munson & Bryan, NE Florida Mailbox, Onsite Safety, Pamela Maxwell, Royal Painting, Southern Scapes, Steven Stratton, Vermont Lighting, Visionaire, Walker Block, Weather Barriers, Woodsman Kitchens, Owens Corning, Foundation Building Materials and Moen & Argo Ready Mix.

The event was sponsored by Providence Homes and Fidelity Bank.