Jeff Hill was a prisoner in his own home.
It’s a lovely home; older, with 13-foot ceilings, wide and high doorways between the living room and dining room, large windows, and two stories. All things considered, it isn’t a bad place to spend your days.
Unless you are confined to a wheelchair.
Seventeen years ago, Hill fell and broke his hip. The next year, he had surgery on the hip which caused him to rely on the use of a walker. As long as he could be somewhat mobile life wasn’t too bad, said his mother. But when things deteriorated to the point that her special needs son became completely wheelchair-bound, managing became almost impossible, she said.
Consider that Frances Joyce is 83 years old with some health issues herself. She and Hill have lived in the house for 30 years, but Joyce estimates that the house could be about 100 years old.
When Hill broke his hip, they moved his bedroom to the first floor so he wouldn’t have to navigate the stairs, but his wheelchair would not fit through the door to the bathroom. This meant that he had to use a potty chair and brushed his teeth on the back porch. Bathing was another issue altogether.
“We had three years of horror,” Joyce said of the time when things just became untenable. This widow of a veteran spent years trying to get help. Team Nurse sends someone to assist with the daily care of Hill that she can’t handle, and she receives Meals on Wheels through STEP, Inc.’s Senior Services. But that doesn’t get Hill through the bathroom door.
Nonetheless, STEP’s home meal delivery services was Joyce’s ticket to a promise of help.
“Because Mrs. Joyce receives Meals on Wheels and is the surviving spouse of a veteran, she qualified for assistance through the Celebration of Service grant provided by Home Depot,” said Doris Fain, STEP’s Senior Services director.
STEP is one of only eight organizations in the nation to receive this $10,000 grant, specifically targeted to help veterans or the surviving spouses of veterans improve their living conditions.
The grant would cover the cost of the materials needed to renovate Joyce’s bathroom to make it handicap accessible. The old tub, sink and toilet would be replaced, the door would be widened, and the lighting would be improved. Hill’s problem was about to be solved!
Except that no one could be found who would volunteer to perform the labor for free.
“It was a big job,” Fain said. “That is quite an investment of time and expense on someone’s part.”
It looked as if Joyce and her son were going to have to continue to struggle to perform the simplest of personal daily living tasks.
But things have a way of working out. Just when Fain began to worry they wouldn’t be able to complete the job during the time period allotted by the grant funders, serendipity put STEP’s executive director Marc Crouse in touch with Lisa Nichols of Henry Fork Service Center, a community service group of the United Methodist Church. A group of United Methodist volunteers from around the mid-Atlantic region were about to arrive in the area on a mission trip. Their mission? To help those in need.
“STEP was not going to let this family continue to suffer without the most basic of daily living needs,” Crouse said.
For one entire week, Bill Beebe, Ron Gamble, Earl Folk and John Swingle from Pennsylvania, and Laurie Rathke from New York worked in 90-plus degree weather to replace the old tub, toilet, and sink; close in the window; install an accessible shower; and widen the door so a wheelchair could fit through it using materials provided by Home Depot.
“We feel it’s a part of our ministry to Christ to help those less fortunate than ourselves,” said Gamble. After the out-of-town volunteers completed the construction and headed back home, local United Methodist volunteers finished up by painting the bathroom and putting on the finishing touches.
The entire project is an example of the good that can come when groups of people form partnerships to address a need, Crouse said. “Serving as a catalyst to bring partners together is a basic premise of STEP’s mission.”
What the United Methodist volunteers called a “God Moment” (doing something less for oneself than for others) turned out to be a God-send for Joyce and Jeff Hill.
“This has made our lives so much easier,” Joyce said. “We are so happy, and so grateful for the help.”