BENTON TOWNSHIP — Life will soon be easier for Vietnam era veteran Norm Crawford of Benton Township.

A wheelchair ramp is being built at his house by students from Jeff Mitchell’s Construction Trades Program, a Career and Technical Education class at Berrien Springs High School.

“It’s a need,” Crawford, 76, said Monday while watching the students build the ramp. “I’m a disabled veteran because of my feet. I had three injuries.”

He said he’s the third generation to serve in the U.S. Army, with his grandfather serving during World War I and his father in World War II.

Mitchell said his two construction trades classes put together panels at the high school for the ramp, which they are now installing at the home.

“They’re doing really well,” he said Monday. “At the rate they’re going, we’ll be done Wednesday.”

It was a joint effort that made the wheelchair ramp happen.

Alan Jeffries, CEO of the Realtor’s association, said he found out that the Berrien Springs High School’s CTE classes could build the ramp at a recent Southwestern Michigan Homebuilders Association meeting. Meanwhile, Crawford submitted an application for the ramp through Lest We Forget.

Mitchell’s classes provided the labor while Big C Lumber of Eau Claire and the Southwestern Michigan Association of Realtors paid for the $1,500 in materials that were needed.

Mary Watkins, chairwoman of the Realtor’s association’s public relations committee, said the association has helped eight veterans since starting the Veterans Outreach Program about a year ago.

“We’re really starting to connect with resources in our community to help,” she said.

She said they have done a variety of projects for the veterans, including cleaning gutters and taking down branches. She said professionals at a local tree service donated their time to take down a large tree while a local asphalt company repaired a driveway.

Jeffries said they would like to help more veterans.

For more information on the outreach program or to apply for assistance, call the association at 983-6375.

In addition, Mitchell said he would like his students to get more experience building ramps. To reach him, call Berrien Springs High School at 471-1748.

Mitchell said his construction trades students come from the high schools of Berrien Springs, Buchanan, Eau Claire, Niles, Brandywine and St. Joseph. 

“I teach them the basics of residential construction,” he said. “The idea being that when they graduate here, they can go and apply for a job and start working the next day and make $30,000 easily the first year. ... We’ve got too many college students and not enough trades people.”

Seniors Magali Vazquez and Elena Loucks from Berrien Springs High School both said they’re glad to have the opportunity to help out a veteran.

“It’s nice to give back to somebody who served our country and helped keep us safe,” Loucks said. “If we didn’t have people like that, we don’t know what state America would be in.”

Vazquez agreed.

“We have to find a way to say thank you for what he did,” she said.

Both said they plan to go into construction after they graduate from high school.

“I really like building things,” Vazquez said.

Loucks added: “I found it cool that I can look at a building said say, ‘I helped build that,’ because that’s going to be there for a long time. And they need people. You’ll always have a job. As long as you are willing to learn and have a good attitude, they will teach you anything you need to know.”

They said being females in a male-dominated field is a little intimidating.

“Mr. Mitchell brought it up to us and said, ‘Don’t let it bother you. Just push through it,’” Vazquez said.

Contact:, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege