Clemson students building structures and changing lives
A war veteran watches a car pull away, carrying with it a group of students who have spent the past five days at his home. They designed and built a wheelchair-accessible porch for his wife, who will be a wheelchair user the rest of her life because of a crippling illness. He runs his hands along the banister of his new porch — part of what makes his house a new home.
It all began when a group of architecture students decided to take their skills and apply them to a medium of disability. These students want to make a difference with their skills of blueprints, measurements and determination. They are passionate in what they do, because what they build supports those who need it most.
This year marks the first chapter of Freedom by Design at Clemson University. The group’s first project was a big one. It involved helping an elderly couple in Easley. The woman has degenerative disk disease and Freedom by Design decided to build she and her husband an accessible porch complete with a paved pathway.
“We wanted to do a larger scale project to establish our chapter,” said Kerri Patton, one of the team leaders. They knew the project would be a big undertaking, but did not expect as many people to help out. “We had more than 40 people come during the five days we were working,” Patton said.
Unlike other service organizations, Freedom by Design not only puts in time and manual labor, but the students are responsible for designing the structures and researching the construction codes for the project. Lindsay Yarborough, another team leader, talked about the process. She said the team went to D.C. for a four-day program where they learned the nuts and bolts of building and design for accessible construction projects. This equipped them with the knowledge they needed to take on the task.
Working to build this porch for the couple was rewarding in its success and in its fulfillment. The team members completed the porch after five days of hard work. The elderly couple stayed behind the scenes during the process, but they appreciated all the work done by the students, Patton said.
“We went back a few weeks later and saw they had planted flowers along the pathway leading up to the porch,” she said.
Freedom by Design plans to do more, smaller scale projects in the future. “We hope to do two projects next fall,” Yarborough said. Although she is graduating, she plans to stay involved with the organization.
Freedom by Design has expanded to not only other architecture majors, but construction science and landscape architecture majors as well. The organization is managed by a captain, project manager, historian and fundraiser. It is led by a will to help those in need. The team has elected new leaders for next year, and they hope to get students of all majors involved with the organization.
“We are excited to share our story with Clemson,” Patton said. In building for the disabled, they have started something that is built to last.
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