Updated December 15, 2021 - 7:29 pm
Maria Velazquez used to have to open each door in her North Las Vegas home for her sons.
Brian, 21, and Jonathan, 14, have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and have been in wheelchairs since their pre-teens. The progressive degeneration of their muscles, along with growing with age, made them more reliant on their parents in their home each year.
It took a toll on the family to lift them for showers and guide them through tight doorways and limited space in the living room.
But that changed Saturday. The family came home to a more open, accessible house at no cost to them — the result of less than two weeks of continuous work by The Good Deed Project.
Maria Velazquez was at a loss for words as she explored the house. A once-cramped hallway now opened up to the family room. The small, inaccessible bathroom for her sons was now wheelchair accessible. Doors open automatically — and a fresh coat of paint covered the house’s exterior.
“I feel happy because I was struggling with (finding help),” Maria Velazquez said, tearing up. “There’s not a lot of programs here in Vegas. I have been struggling for years, especially because there’s two of them. It makes us a little bit lighter, a little bit lighter work.”
A 10-day crunch
The Good Deed Project began working with the Velazquezes nearly a year ago, executive director Mandy Telleria said. The all-volunteer nonprofit focuses on improving living conditions for people in unsafe conditions or who need improvements for their health, mostly through school or other agencies’ referrals.
“What we find is that there are a lot of families that happen to be homeowners,” said Telleria, a designer by trade. “They own the home, but then they don’t have the finances to kind of keep things up. Or, maybe they buy a home because they buy what they can afford, (but) the home is not in living condition.”
Organizers at another nonprofit, the Wheelchair Foundation, jumped at the chance to help the Velazquezes, who were struggling to fit their sons’ electric wheelchairs in the bathroom of their 1,200-square-foot house.
Telleria thought it was a perfect match for the nonprofit’s first renovation since the pandemic’s onset. They like to “take on the hard projects” and saw how expanding their bathroom could change the family’s lives, she said.
“The little things we can do to bring more personal independence and freedom to the boys is our goal on this project, then also to alleviate some of the stress for the parents,” Telleria said.
After months of planning, identifying donors and in-kind volunteers, crews of 20 or more volunteers and contractors per day come to spend hours on the renovation. For the Velazquez house, they had just 10 days to knock out a wall, rewire and redirect plumbing.
The ultimate product went far beyond the family’s request for an accessible bathroom for Brian and Jonathan. Telleria estimates the renovations are valued at more than $100,000 for the materials and labor.
Bobby Panaro, who donated $10,000 to help complete the project and finish off the family’s wish list, said he saw how vital the changes were for the family’s comfort.
“Something as simple as just knocking a couple walls down and changing some sensors and changing doors is really going to make their life different,” Panaro said. “It’s gonna impact them strong.”
The final product
Volunteers worked until 1:40 p.m. Saturday before the family’s 2 p.m. arrival to see the home. Beyond the new doorways and bathroom retrofit, the nonprofit added a turf field in the backyard, voice-controlled lights through Amazon’s Alexa, murals in Brian and Jonathan’s bedrooms with Las Vegas Raiders swag and a football signed by quarterback Derek Carr, among other improvements. The goal of each change was to make the home accessible, functional and comfortable, Telleria said.
It left the house feeling like a “mini mansion,” Brian Velazquez said. For Maria Velazquez, the changes left her nearly speechless. She didn’t expect improvements in her own bathroom, let alone all the personal touches.
“There’s not a lot of people that help and I appreciate their work, they’re like angels,” she said. “They’re volunteers, they don’t need to get paid. They just do it from their heart. There’s not a lot of people like that, so I appreciate every single little detail. I feel grateful.”
McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.