Volunteers rebuild house for ALS patient (Video)

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
April 7, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated April 7, 2012 at 11:08 p.m.

After becoming overcome with emotion, Dora Escobar, left, is comforted by her brother-in-law, Sam, as he helps her husband, Robert, look at the couple's newly renovated house in Port Lavaca for the first time on Friday. Project Elevation and Faith Family Church renovated the house in three weeks.

After becoming overcome with emotion, Dora Escobar, left, is comforted by her brother-in-law, Sam, as he helps her husband, Robert, look at the couple's newly renovated house in Port Lavaca for the first time on Friday. Project Elevation and Faith Family Church renovated the house in three weeks.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

PORT LAVACA - Eli Sauseda ran through the house on Friday afternoon, a blur of motion and noise.

"Come on guys! We've got 10 minutes! Where are the screws? We just built an entire house, how can we not have screws," Sauseda, the associate pastor at Faith Family Church, called.

In a matter of minutes the limousine carrying Robert Escobar and his wife, Dora, would pull up to the house.

A volunteer tapped a hammer against the freshly painted walls, hanging Escobar's awards for 18 years of service in the Port Lavaca Fire Department in the newly renovated living room. In the new bedroom, volunteer coordinator Timothy Reinke helped put together a lamp while a pair of men hung the bedroom door.

This project started a month ago when Mario Garcia and Timothy Reinke showed up at the house to unclog a bathroom sink and do a few small repairs.

For years Robert Escobar's world was confined to one room of his small house.

Diagnosed with ALS, a motor neuron disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, Escobar was helpless as he watched his life slip away from him.

He was once a burly man, the kind that seemed to fill up a room with his size, but his vitality has steadily slid away from him. He became dependent on a wheelchair. Sickness wasn't something the Escobars had ever planned on when they married 18 years ago and bought their small home.

The two-bedroom home simply wasn't designed to accommodate a man in a wheelchair. The doorways were narrow and the hallway was cramped. Escobar could only go from his bedroom to the dining room.

The window facing the backyard was his only view of the world. The bathroom wasn't big enough for a wheelchair. Dora had to hoist his thin body from the chair to the shower to bathe him.

It was hard but somehow they managed.

"I knew Robert when he was a strong man. I didn't realize how bad it was until I saw him again. I saw his eyes, and I saw his wife Dora's eyes and that was when I decided to help. My heart went out to them," Garcia said.

Seeing the inside of the house, Garcia went to Sauseda and told him they needed to do more. Project Elevation, the charity group at Faith Family Church, would rebuild the home.

"If we're going to do this, we have to do it like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," Garcia said, agreeing.

It went from there.

Dora Escobar never imagined anything like this would happen, she said. She wished for it, watching the television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and asking God whether something like that could happen to them. Then it did.

"It just shows that God has a sense of humor," she said, smiling as she wiped trails of tears from her face.

A gleaming black limousine slid onto the street.

Escobar's brother stepped forward to hoist Escobar's body from the car to his wheelchair.

Sauseda climbed on top of the fire truck to speak to the group of more than 50 people who came to see the Escobars ushered into their home.

"A month ago we had zero - zero hands and zero dollars, but look what friends and family can do! Look at what the real love of God," Sauseda said to the crowd. "Now, say it with me, move that bus! Move that bus!"

The crowd took up the chant and the fire truck rumbled forward to reveal the Escobar's home.

Escobar couldn't lift his head from his chest to see the house until his brother reached over and raised it for him. His eyes widened at the sight.

The moment she set eyes on her house, Dora Escobar began to cry. She clapped a hand over her mouth in an attempt to control the emotion sweeping over her, but the tears kept coming.

As the crowd clapped and cheered, she wheeled her husband up the freshly poured and power-washed drive to the front door of a house that bares no resemblance to the one they left a month ago.

"Oh my God. Oh my God," she chanted softly, pushing his chair over the threshold. Eyes wide, she followed Sauseda as he showed her around the place, an airy one bedroom home with large windows that filled the place with sunlight.

The sharp smell of paint was still in the air and well wishers were warned not to lean against the walls.

Escobar couldn't speak, but the smile on his face was brilliant.

"I've never had a matching dresser and bedroom set. I've always wanted one," Dora Escobar said when they moved into the bedroom.

"Look, Robert, I can sit here and read to you," she said, pointing at a comfortable arm chair in the corner.

The smile on Escobar's face crumpled and his face shuddered with emotion as tears rolled down his cheeks.

More than 200 volunteers put in more than 1,000 hours to get the work done. The renovation cost more than $100,000, but all of the materials and funds needed were donated from people and businesses in the community.

The day before the Escobars were set to return home, the house was a hive of activity. The yard was a mass of mud and dirt and the vinyl wood floors had just been laid. Volunteers worked until 11:30 p.m. Thursday night and were there the next morning working feverishly to finish the transformation.

However, Sauseda never had a doubt it would be ready.

"Failure, what's that? I knew we'd get it done," he said.

Things had a way of working out, Sauseda said.

Garcia, the general contractor for the project, didn't have any volunteers to do the roofing on Wednesday night, but the next morning three roofers showed up.

Project Elevation was always short of their fundraising goal - they still needed $60,000 when they began gutting the house three weeks ago - but whenever a need came up someone stepped up and gave them the money, tools or skills they needed.

"No one ever told us no. Whenever we asked we were never turned down for anything," Sauseda said.

On Thursday, Kristin Raab, of Victoria, worked sanding shelves in the kitchen, her gray T-shirt soaked in sweat and her face caked in a fine dust of white sawdust that looked like a fine dusting of powder.

Raab said she hoped this will be the first of many projects like this in the community, that this will start a chain reaction in the community.

"It's something God put in the hearts of people looking to help others," Raab said. "Bad things happen but as long as people are open to what God can do in life, that makes the difference. In the worst of storms, He calms the waters. Things like this can happen."

Sauseda agreed. He hopes this will be the first of many times they can come together to reach out and help people in the community, he said.

"This is the first time we're doing this, but it's just the first. We're not stopping here. This is just the beginning" he said. From the new flat-screen television in the bedroom to the apple pie on the marble kitchen counter, the house had been lovingly made into a home again.

There are still a few things to be finished, but Sauseda wanted to get the couple home for Easter, he said.

Sitting on the new couch in her living room, Dora Escobar was still dabbing tears from her eyes.

"I'm so thankful. Thanks to everyone who gave their sweat and their time. I know that it rained, I know what this meant. We're so thankful," she said.



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