Ramping a journey to Grace

New steps completed

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The concrete steps leading to spiritual nourishment were completed at Grace A.M.E. Zion Church last week.

The long-awaited wooden ramp to facilitate those with aching knees comes next.

“We reconfigured the front steps so that there’s a landing at the front door for an easier entrance,” explained Jason Pontieri, P.E. and principal of JPCE Consulting Engineers of Medford, of the steps that were built facing sideways. Before, you’d get to the narrow top step and open the door, causing a bit of uncomfortable jostling, he explained.

“The ramp will start at the bottom of the stairs, loop around front to the tree by Cleveland Street, like a U design, and then back to the landing,” he added.

Pontieri, nephew of Patchogue mayor Paul Pontieri, provided the pro bono plans and stayed on the permit process with the village.

Steve Walker, vice president of Rebuilding Together Long Island, a not-for-profit volunteer group that works to revitalize homes for those struggling to make ends meet, represented the participants who are building the wooden ramp. “It could run about $2,000,” Walker said of the wood, adding, “we love doing community projects.” National Lumber in Patchogue had committed to donating the wood, said Patchogue Village trustee Tom Ferb, who oversaw the project.

A railing would be installed. That would cost extra. Ferb said the project’s cost so far for the concrete steps was $6,700. As for surprise expenses, Ferb pointed out that the beam under the front door had rotted and had to be replaced.

The project has had its ups and downs with this tender little church, where the Brookhaven NAACP was founded. Planning started before COVID hit.

The church once had a robust congregation and a full-fledged choral group, singing wonderful songs that wafted over the neighborhood. Now membership is at about 40.

Pastor Rev. Jesse Fields said resurrecting a praise-singing chorus might be a possibility, and  there would definitely be a service to celebrate their new entries.

After Pontieri and Walker asked Pastor Fields for an inside tour, plans to possibly help other issues began coalescing.

“We had a flood in the basement in September,” Pastor Fields said, standing in front of the church. “The problem with the flood is that the extensive damage is on us to pay for. It was actively used before, especially the kitchen and dining room. Because of the sand under the floor, we had small cracks, but after the flood they became much larger.”

Walker jumped in. “Once the infrastructure is completed under the floor, maybe we can help with laying a new one and painting,” he told Fields.

There is something to be said for longevity here. The cornerstone marker establishes the church in 1919. Its 100th anniversary was celebrated with verve and a big dinner in 2019, and Ella McLean, the pianist, organist, treasurer and historian, celebrated her 101st birthday last year at Lombardi’s on the Bay. (The place was packed. The 100-mark had to be postponed because of COVID). McLean inquired if something could be done about the cornerstone, because it would be obscured once the ramp was established.

The sun was beaming down like a benediction, and Ferb promised to photograph the cornerstone and have a plaque made commemorating the church’s origins.

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