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Comic relief is focus of upcoming benefit

By Paula Canning

Staff Writer

SOUTH HADLEY Comedians Tom Hayes and J.J Ramirez will offer their talents for a worthy cause on June 16, when they serve as the spotlight entertainment for the Comic Relief for Ramps benefit event, which will take place at 7 p.m. the Adelfia Restaurant on Route 202.

The proceeds for the event will benefit those served by Home Sweet Home, a program facilitated by the Stavros Center of Independent Living that coordinates local resources, donations and volunteers to build wheelchair ramps for those wanting to remain independent, according to Home Sweet Home Coordinator Lois Brown.

Brown said that in addition to generating funds to support the program, the event will also help to raise awareness about the need for wheelchair ramps for the elderly and for those with disabilities.

She explained that the idea for the benefit event came from a local comedian who utilizes the Stavros Center's services and is currently on the waiting list for a wheelchair ramp to be installed in his home.

"As a comedian himself, he has a lot of connections and was able to book the acts," Brown said.

Brown explained that Hayes appearance was "ideal" for the benefit event because he is also a motivational speaker who lost a leg to cancer as a child.

She explained that in 1996, Hayes was named the "Funniest Person in Massachusetts" and has appeared on national television as an "adventure seeking guy" who coined the phrase, "if you're not living on the edge, than you're taking up too much space."

Brown said that Ramirez was also an excellent selection for the event.

A regular at the Comic Strip in New York City and other New York City comedy clubs, Brown said that Ramirez is known for his engaging high-energy style and humorous observations about family, friends and everyday life.

Since it began one year ago, the Home Sweet Home program has helped to build 14 ramps, according to Brown.

With over 60 people currently on the waiting list for a wheelchair ramp, Brown said that these 14 ramps have only "put a dent" in what she says is a "critical need" in the Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.

She explained that while many of those who are in wheelchairs will be eligible for transportation services to take them to and from medical appointments, the service cannot be utilized if the person is unable to exit their home.

"None of these van services help you get out of your house," Brown explained.

She said that the average cost of building and installing a wheelchair ramp is about $6,000 a cost that isn't covered by insurance companies.

She said that she's unsure as to why insurance companies don't help with the costs, as the ramps are the second most requested service for personal care assistance.

Although these ramps are set at a steep cost, with the help of a $12,000 grant from the Massachusetts Rehab Commission, along with the numerous area businesses and organizations that donate their goods, she said that the the Stavros Center can usually put together a ramp for someone at a cost of $1,000, which is provided by the organization.

She said that the help that the Stavros Center receives from the community is what makes the the Home Sweet Home program a "cooperative effort" from the community.

She said that in addition to donations of construction materials and funds, many area vocational schools, such as the Westover Job Corps in Chicopee, frequently offer their services to help construct the ramps.

Brown said that since the program began, "It's been very exciting to watch it grow."

She added that there has been noticeable enthusiasm for the program seen throughout the region.

She said that she is hoping that the benefit event will be well-attended, as the need for wheelchair ramps continues to climb.

"I get calls almost weekly about someone else who is need," she said.

Ticket are $12 in advance and $15 at the door.

"Come and have a good time," Brown said. "It's a chance for some comic relief that none of us seem to get enough of."

Stavros Center for Independent Living provides services to over 6,00 persons with disabilities each year in Hampden, Franklin, and Hampshire counties.

For more information on the Comic Relief for Ramps event or Stavros services and the Home Sweet Home ramp project, or to order a ticket for the event, contact Brown at (413) 256-0473 or by email at