Future architects build ramp for vet disabled in crash

Freedom by Design, an organization established on campus in summer 2008, is made up of student volunteers. For their first project, they built a wheelchair ramp for a Navy lieutenant.

Disabled U.S. Navy Lt. Thomas Jaskel, who sustained severe brain trauma following a July 2009 accident when a drunk driver hit him, now has a wheelchair ramp at his Langhorne, Pa., home, thanks to a student organization.

Freedom by Design, an on-campus organization founded summer 2008, recently finished the ramp, its first official project.

FBD is made up of 18 student volunteers – all architecture majors – and is the community service branch of larger campus organization the American Institute of Architecture Students, which boasts chapters across the country. FBD stresses that architecture students use the skills they develop at Temple to help others while providing networking opportunities.

The students worked on the project for nearly a year. They made preparations, raised funds and constructed the ramp during spring break, when they built it at the home of Jaskel’s mother, Agnes.

A faculty adviser and instructors from the School of Engineering and Architecture assist FBD in its endeavors. Faculty members who aided in the ramp project included professor Rashida Ng, who reviewed the group’s sketches before members submitted them to the township for a building permit. James McKenna, an insurance agent and former contractor, served as the group’s construction mentor, overseeing the ramp’s physical completion.

“This project is most definitely the most rewarding experience I have had at Temple and in my five years in the architecture program,” said Dane Bombara, a fifth-year architecture student who served as project manager.

“Call it naiveté, dumb luck or – as I like to think of it – skill, we ended up giving the Jaskels exactly what they wanted and almost right on schedule, building what would have been a $1,500 project for only $37.50,” he added.

Sponsors helped the students make the project possible, and several companies donated materials.

“It is important to create awareness about people with disabilities and even more important for students within their respective disciplines to understand how they can give back to a community that is often forgotten,” said Sarah Salem, a fifth-year architecture student and FBD team captain.

Bombara said he and the other volunteers gained invaluable real-world experience as a result of the project and learned a lot about client communication, fundraising and project completion that they generally wouldn’t have past the drawing board in an academic setting.

“At the end of the day, we made it possible for Thomas to come home and be with his family, which is truly something amazing,” Bombara said. “I can only imagine what the Jaskels were thinking after the first day when we came and demolished their existing walkway and left huge pile of dirt and broken concrete in its place.

“This was the first step in getting Thomas home, and the completion of this project makes that day infinitely closer,” he added. “And you could see it in their faces every day as it started to come together.”

Mark Lauterbach can be reached at mark.lauterbach@temple.edu.

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