Volunteers ramp up house for family
As the sun beat down on Saturday, Toriano Dixon was busy driving in screws in his new wheelchair ramp.
The 15-year-old boy who everyone calls "T" was grinning through the sweat.
"I can't wait to see final results," he said. "It'll be so cool."
The house at 1104 Seventh Ave. NW that Toriano shares with his parents and sisters was bustling with activity as about 30 sweating volunteers from Charter Communications sawed, drilled, dug, painted and more.
"It's so humbling that all of these volunteers took the time out of their lives, away from their families, to do this for us. We just feel so much gratitude," said Jamar Boone as he carried a paint roller from a bedroom.
Boone; Tracy Gilbertson, Toriano's mother; and the wheelchair-bound boy moved into the older house in 2008. At first, there were only steps leading to the house, so Toriano had to be carried in and out. They soon put up a rough wheelchair ramp with the intention of upgrading it. However, the arrival of Toriano's sisters, busy jobs and the usual distractions of life kept putting the project off.
Born with spina bifida, Toriano knew how to make the steep, rail-less ramp work, but it wasn't a good fit nor was it up Rochester's building code.
So when the Rochester Area Foundation reached out to the community looking for people who had needs at their houses, Gilbertson applied. She said she wasn't very hopeful because of their income from Boone's construction job. But in the end, their house was chosen for a new ramp, backyard landscaping, new front door, water damage repair and interior painting.
The project is a first for both Charter and the Twin Cities-based nonprofit Rebuilding Together . The cable giant has set a goal of improving 25,000 homes nationally by 2020 as part of its community initiative. Saturday's operation was Charter's first project in Minnesota, said Kim Noetzel, Charter's senior manager of communications.
Charter then approached Rebuilding Together to help orchestrate the operation.
"We jumped at the chance to work in Rochester," said Executive Director Kathyn Greiner. "It gave us an opportunity to reach beyond our seven county metro area."
Greiner explained the plan was to complete the bulk of the work Saturday, with a smaller crew doing finish work on Sunday. They also lined up a professional contractor to widen the bathroom doorways at a later date.
The doorway is too narrow for Toriano's wheelchair. Getting in and out is a bit of a struggle, which is why he brushes his teeth and washes his face in the kitchen.
Gilbertson said she's very excited to have the house upgraded to make it easier for her son. Plus the combo of the new ramp and backyard landscaping will give the teenager a place to hang out with his friends.
"It's probably more exciting to me than (my children), but I just want to give my children the best I can," she said. "By winning this blessing, I would like my children to see how giving and helping others brings people together, and that they too will give back!"