Today was one of those days – filled with one weird difficulty after another. But late in the afternoon my phone rang. It was Lisa Thomas, inviting me to her grandmother’s 88th birthday party.
It has been a couple years since I have thought deeply about what came to be called The Thomas Project. But hearing Lisa’s voice made me track down the piece that originally ran in a Loudoun County publication. The intervening years have made the story seem even more remarkable than it did at the time.
Loudoun County Area Volunteers Assist Elderly Couple
In 1952 when Ed Thomas and his bride Virginia bought a home on the outskirts of Leesburg they were young, full of expectation, and looking forward to life together.
It was in this small wooden home that Ed and Virginia raised their children, played with their grandchildren, and experienced the joys and hardships that make up the fabric of life.
But by 2009, both Ed, now ill with cancer, and Virginia, suffering from diabetes, had had extensive medical procedures and were hospitalized. They wanted nothing more, however, than to live out their days in the home they had shared for more than fifty years.
The home, however, was now uninhabitable: the toilet had partially fallen through the floorboards, an exterior bearing wall had major damage, the chimney had collapsed, there was no central heating, and the front steps had rotted and fallen off the porch. Both the home and yard were filled with decades’ worth of cast-offs belonging to extended family. Restoring the home to a livable condition was beyond their reach.
Beyond their reach, that is, until the Thomases’ granddaughter, Lisa Thomas, contacted Laurie MacNaughton, reverse mortgage specialist with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. MacNaughton, after fruitless calls to multiple local organizations, contacted Round Hill United Methodist Church of Round Hill, Virginia, which counts several contractors among its members. Professionals from the congregation inspected the home and agreed to take on the project.
“Our goal, plain and simple, was to repair the Thomases’ home to habitable condition. They spent their entire married life there, and understandably they want to spend their final days together in their home. There are those of us in the Leesburg area with the professional skills necessary to carry out this project, and the determination to make it happen,” says Steve Simons, area manager of Handyman Matters.
Manpower for the ground-up renovation was provided by professionals and volunteers from Round Hill United Methodist Church and the local community. The Home Depot in Leesburg supplied building materials, and McCrea Heating and Air provided an HVAC unit. Thousands of man-hours over the course of more than two years, and overseen by Handyman Matters’ Simons, went into the reconstruction.
“I am so overwhelmed and blessed that there are actually people in this world willing to help,” says Lisa Thomas, granddaughter of Ed and Virginia. “For a year I tried to help my grandparents get back into their home, but I didn’t have the resources to make it happen. All my grandparents wanted was to be together again. Round Hill [Methodist Church] has done a wonderful thing. Steve [Simons] has been amazing. And none of this could have happened without Laurie [MacNaughton]. Honestly, I have to keep pinching myself to be sure is really happening.”
“This entire journey has been one of a church’s and a community’s generosity, love, and remarkable perseverance,” says MacNaughton. “I think of it as ‘NIMBY’ in reverse. This community came together and said, ‘We simply are not going to know about this kind of suffering in our own backyard and just turn our back. As long as we have the ability to remedy this, we are putting our hand to the plow.’ I only wish Mr. Thomas had lived to see this day.”
The Thomas home is now fully complete, and has all the charm associated with a grandmother’s cottage. It has been outfitted with handicapped-accessible amenities, including a roll-in shower, transfer toilet, wide doorways, and a specially designed kitchen.
On September 28th the extended Thomas family, along with members of Round Hill Methodist Church and the community, will welcome Virginia Thomas home with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration.