SOUTHFIELD — With a wheelchair ramp, widened doorways and a handful of other improvements, longtime Southfield resident Dennis Bee proudly describes his house as “whip-around-able.”
After losing both of his legs to a seven-year series of infections, Bee found his home on Plum Hollow not only in serious disrepair, but in need of a wheelchair ramp and wider doorways.
Not knowing where to turn, Bee’s sister, Diane Johns, of Bloomfield Hills, spent countless nights on the computer searching for options.
She found Rebuilding Together Oakland County, a nonprofit providing free home repairs to county residents. Johns sent the organization a message on Facebook, and the rest is history.
“Once the nursing home days ran out — they only give you so many — we said, ‘OK, he’s a double amputee. Where’s he going to live?’ He’s on unemployment and disability, and we didn’t have a lot of money and we’re looking at this house saying, ‘He’s got a home and it’s a nice home, but there’s no way a double amputee could live here,’” Johns said. “I started finding out how much of a cost to (repair the home) and, financially, I couldn’t do it. So through the night I would Google, Google, Google different places, trying to figure out who could help.”
Kurt Dreher, program manager at Rebuilding Together Oakland County, said Johns’ timing was perfect.
“Somehow the timing was really good for you to reach out to us, because that’s when we were gearing up for spring for our National Rebuild Day,” Dreher told Johns at Bee’s home recently. “We had teams available to do the work, so it was just kind of fate and just fell into place, from our perspective.”
Dreher said four teams worked on Bee’s home, working to install a wheelchair ramp, repair an easement, clean up the yard and restore the inside of the home by giving it a fresh coat of paint and repairing light fixtures. Dreher and other skilled labor volunteers worked to renovate
Bee’s bathroom to be more wheelchair-friendly, with a wider doorway and a shower that can accommodate a wheelchair.
The first hurdle the group had to overcome was making the entryway to the home wheelchair-accessible. Volunteers from Rebuilding Together
Detroit were able to dismantle a wheelchair ramp from another house and reassemble it at Bee’s.
“It ended 2 inches from the driveway — everything fit. It was unbelieveable. We didn’t have to modify anything; we just had to bolt it together in a different configuration. So that was my first thought, that this was kind of fate,” Dreher said.
“I didn’t realize the extent of what they were going to do. I’ve been very enthralled with everything that has happened since I got here and I’ve realized I can get around,” Bee said.
Dreher said the city of Southfield sponsored the renovations.
Rebuilding Together Oakland County is currently accepting applications from low-income homeowners. To qualify, applicants must own their home and be current on mortgage payments, homeowners insurance and taxes. Applications are due by the end of January. To learn more about Rebuilding Together Oakland County or to request an application, go to rebuildingtogetheroaklandcounty.org or call (248) 432-6551.