It started as a simple request: Janice Bronstein, a Naples senior living with multiple sclerosis, needed a new wheelchair ramp for the entrance to her home.
The recent widow of a World War II veteran, Bronstein asked the Collier Building Industry Authority (CBIA) if they might be able to help her procure a better, safer ramp. Simple enough.
The CBIA, which sponsors several service projects each year, received Bronstein’s request, deemed it reasonable, and sent several members out to look at her home. What they found wasn’t so simple. The ramp was badly in need of repair — but so too were other parts of the house, if they were to be accessible to the wheelchair-bound Bronstein.
On the spot, the CBIA members decided that while they were installing a new ramp, they might as well also gut the kitchen and bathroom of the house too. In an instant, a simple ramp installation became an entire home renovation.
“It was a year’s worth of planning in 60 seconds,” said Chris Alley of Lazer Construction, who sits on the remodeling council of the CBIA.
Kathy Curatolo, the executive director of the CBIA, added, “Chris came out to look at the ramp and said, ‘Wait, you can’t cook in here, and your bathroom isn’t safe,’ and it all started from there.”
The entire remodel will likely take between three and four weeks to complete, but last week, Bronstein, who has been staying at a rehab center due to some symptoms caused by her MS, got a sneak peak of what her new house will look like.
“Oh. My. God! I don’t even recognize this at all!” squealed Bronstein when she pulled her motorized scooter into her kitchen for the first time since the renovation process started. Everything had been removed, and the builders explained what was going to be going in.
“There will be all new cabinets, more reachable counter space and a lazy Susan to help you get to things,” explained Alley.
Outside her house, a crew of volunteers from Leadership Collier, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, CBIA and Waste Management had already been busy, painting the entire exterior of the home and mulching her entire garden.
“The painting and the mulch just looks so great,” exclaimed Bronstein, adding, “now my cactuses don’t look so dead!”
Bronstein has been in the one-story ranch style home since 1987, and she really can’t see herself leaving. For Bronstein, who is the author of “I have MS, It Doesn’t Have Me,” being mobile and independent is a priority. That was doable when she was living with her late husband. Now on her own, the setup of her home was proving challenging. Yet, for the fiercely independent Bronstein, coping with a home that needed some adjustment was better than giving up her independence. But now, she’s going to have both.
“Even during less than desirable economic times, our members have opened up their hearts and wallets to provide Janice Bronstein a safer and more comfortable home,” said Curatolo.
Which is, perhaps, what makes this story especially wonderful. Though the housing and construction industries have been notoriously hard hit by the bad economy, many CBIA members have nonetheless stepped forward to help in any way possible. Some have given free labor; others have donated fixtures from model homes, and still others, like Waste Management, have come forward with cash.
But whatever they’ve given — from grab bars for Bronstein’s new, safer shower to hours of labor bringing all the electrical wiring up to code — it’s all come together to help one local senior live safely and independently in her home.