By Josette Keelor
Volunteers with the United Way of Front Royal's annual Day of Caring event donated their time Friday in an effort to help out those who need it most.
Executive Director Lee Smith Osina said Day of Caring has grown with each year, and now in its 11th year, 140 volunteers turned out to participate in 23 projects around Warren County.
The need is great around the community, she said. Of those who apply for assistance, the United Way chooses jobs that participants can do in one day.
Osina said Help With Housing in Winchester takes on the bigger projects later.
The biggest project Day of Caring tackled this year was at the home of Betty Shell and her daughter Dena Rae Shell, who needed their bathroom remodeled to be handicap accessible.
New Look Kitchen and Bath donated its labor and supplies for what company owner Kelley Miller expected would be a daylong effort. Miller said this was the fourth or fifth year her company was involved in Day of Caring.
"We typically end up doing their bigger projects," she said.
"Last year we did a kitchen in one day," she said. Employees and volunteers installed new flooring, cabinets, counters and even walls with the help of Pez Electric to maintain safety during the project. Last year they also painted and increased storage in the home's kitchen.
Its main project at the Shell home Friday was to install a handicapped shower stall in place of a bathtub.
It was a necessity, Betty Shell said.
"Just a regular-sized shower wouldn't have been the same size," she said. It needed to be big enough for her and her grown daughter, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident 23 years ago.
"So this will really make it easier to help her get in and out of the shower," Shell said.
Her daughter, now 40, was 17 when Shell said investigators think she swerved to avoid hitting a deer. The tires of her car slid on black ice, Shell said, and she hit a tree.
Her physicians said she would be in a permanent vegetative stage, Shell said. They were wrong.
"Over the years, she has come a long way," Shell said. "She understands us, just her ability to respond appropriately is [affected]."
The doctors told Shell in 1990 that if her daughter was going to improve, it would be within 18 to 20 months, "and that just wasn't her timeline," Shell said. At first, when her daughter returned home she was in a closed-eyed coma.
It took her five years to begin eating on her own, but then she "started eating like she had never not been eating," Shell said. "It was just automatic."
A year later, she started talking again, Shell said.
"It was just her timeline that the Lord had set for her."
Shell said malfunctions in her daughter's tongue made it difficult for her to speak for the first several years, until Shell was brushing her daughter' teeth like usual one day and thought to massage her daughter's tongue with the back of the toothbrush.
"And that would make her gag, and when you gag your tongue comes out," Shell said.
"And she was able to speak," Shell said. "And then it was like a whisper. Then she was counting to 10 in Spanish."
"Baby steps for the rest of the world, giant steps in my house," Shell said.
She also asked volunteers from Day of Caring to install a handrail along the stairs to the basement and on the stairs behind her house, which she needs now in the aftermath of two knee surgeries.
"We just feel so blessed," she said. "I mean it's just an answer to our prayers."
Osina said Miller's company takes on what she calls "extreme makeovers."
"One of the biggest issues we have when we pick jobs is safety," Osina said. Since most of the volunteers are amateurs, she assigns the most extensive work to those who have more knowledge in the craft.
The plumbing in Shell's house had some issues that Miller and project manager John Thompson planned to correct Friday. They also were raising the bathroom commode to make movement to the new shower stall easier.
Said Miller, "This will make their life a whole lot easier, and safety -- a lot of people [are] living in situations that are dangerous."
Around the community, volunteers provided yard work, helped clean out houses and provided needed construction to applicants who qualified as disabled, elderly or living as a low-income family, Osina said.
On James Street, "That will be almost a total makeover of a mobile home," Osina said.
At the home of Kevin Graves on South Shenandoah Avenue, students from an electrical class and building trade class at Blue Ridge Technical Center installed a handicap ramp outside as employees from Warren Memorial Hospital trimmed greenery in the back yard and raked leaves.
Electrical class instructor Michael Abel said this was the first time the school has participated in Day of Caring.
"We were told about it and we decided this year to be involved," he said.
"We hope to make it an annual thing."
Julie Delinger also was volunteering for the first time, with coworkers Kim Perez and Tracey Ramey.
"It feels great, and I'm glad it's such a good day out," Delinger said.
Perez said she and Ramey have volunteered for six or seven years so far.
"It's a team from the hospital," said Perez. "We get paid for the day."
"Last year we did a house that had seven children," she said. "We sorted all the clothes, put winter clothes away ... cleaned the kitchen."
In other years they've done lots of yard work, she said.
"You know it feels good to be able to help somebody, give back to the community," said Perez.
Osina called Day of Caring "a tradition in the community."
According to Shell, volunteers don't realize how much their help means to those who receive it.
"There's just so much good, so many people willing to help and be of service," she said.
"It's an improvement in a lifestyle."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org