Some organizations simply write a check (usually one of those big cardboard ones that show up well for a photo-op) to support a worthy charitable cause but members of the Mesquite Ambucs are a little different. They like to get their hands dirty.
For almost 40 years the Mesquite Ambucs have been working to enhance the lives of disabled children, adults and veterans through their Amtryke Program and in more recent years have added building barrier-free ramps for elderly and disabled homeowners in Mesquite and surrounding communities.
Since they began, former Mesquite Deputy City Manager Jerry Dittman said the organization has given away more than a thousand Amtrykes – distributing on average 40-50 a year. Dittman said the group builds about four to six ramps a year and has finished more than 100 in total.
As for writing those checks?
Ambucs does that, too – awarding almost $350,000 in scholarships to more than 100 Mesquite ISD graduates pursuing educational training in physical or occupational therapy programs or speech pathology programs.
In short, Mesquite Ambucs members are big on giving back to their community.
“Our members are professionals (CEOs, lawyers, dentists, engineers, investment advisers, bankers, accountants, retirees, City and MISD employees, business owners, etc.) and contractors who like the feeling of creating a ramp or assembling an Amtryke,” said Dittman, who retired from his city position in 2017 after 16 years and now serves as the Ambucs ramp chairman. “The satisfaction comes in completing a professional ADA-compliant ramp or fitting an Amtryke to a child and seeing the joy and gratitude on the recipient's face as well as their families.”
The Amtryke Program is the organization’s key effort. They work with physical therapists to fit an appropriate therapeutic tricycle for individuals who are unable to operate traditional bicycles – providing benefits tailored to individuals that improve their muscular development and coordination.
The Amtrykes can be hand- and/or foot-powered and accommodate riders of all sizes, ages and abilities. If a child is severely disabled, a parent or caregiver can control the Amtryke from the rear. The ability to ride an Amtryke improves a child's confidence and self-esteem and permits them to participate in normal activities with other children and siblings.
The value of each Amtryke ranges between $670 and $1,430 and they are assembled and fitted by club members. And if a child outgrows their Amtryke, Dittman said they have a solution for that as well.
“All they [the parents] need to do is contact us and we will work with their physical or occupational therapist to provide a larger one,” he said. “We never turn down a request.”
Dittman said ramp requests come through the Mesquite Ambucs website or as a referral from the City of Mesquite. You can also email a request to email@example.com. His group also builds ramps as part of the annual Addressing Mesquite Day. The ramps are valued at around $2,000 each, are permitted and comply with city code and Texas Accessibility Standards. Threshold transition ramps and handrails can also be done on a case-by-case basis.
“The smiles we receive by giving someone the simple ability to check their mailbox again is priceless,” he said. “Restoring someone's mobility and independence is very gratifying.”
Dittman illustrated the impact the ramps can have in the community by relaying a true story.
“A physically disabled grandmother was living in a house with her mentally and physically disabled grandson,” he said. “Their front door was 32 inches above the ground so a neighbor had previously constructed a porch with used lumber and a makeshift ramp for them so the grandson could ride in his wheelchair to the bus taking him to school/therapy each day. The ramp was steep and difficult to negotiate.”
“The grandson loved to sit on the porch and wave to vehicles driving by,” Dittman said. “We took this project during Addressing Mesquite Day in 2019 and thought we were just going to replace the ramp but the porch was so deteriorated that we decided to remove it and build a new porch and ramp. It took six men all day to set the posts and then it took 12 club members all day Saturday to complete it. The grandson can now be seen on his porch most nice days waving to traffic along East Cartwright Road.”
These projects – the AmTrykes, the ramps, the scholarships and more – are paid for through two major fundraisers and membership dues. The organization is hosting its 27th anniversary Big Hat Charity Golf Tournament on May 24 at Prestonwood Country Club that raises about 90 percent of the budget and previously they had hosted a pancake breakfast in conjunction with Christmas in the Park but this year have something different planned – a Casino Night fundraiser held at the Mesquite Arts Center on Nov. 6. Dittman said the public can also donate through PayPal on the website and Ambucs annual memberships are $500 and Friend of Ambucs memberships are just $120 a year.
Mesquite AMBUCS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization established in 1984 and currently has 30 active members who volunteer their time, talents and tools to give back to their community – providing them with avenues to have fun, learn new skills and get involved with many innovative service opportunities.
“Ambucs is a fun, social group of selfless Christian people who do a lot of unseen good in the community,” Dittman said. “COVID really put a damper on us since March 2020 but we are coming back strong now.”