NEW PORT RICHEY
Jennifer D'Alvia is frail, on oxygen and permanently hunched over, as if she bent to pick something off the ground and was frozen midway. Moving hurts but, on Wednesday, she softly stepped to the edge of her boundary, as far as the lines tethering her to a large oxygen tank allowed:
The front door. She wanted to see what had been done.
"My yard looks so nice now," said Mrs. D'Alvia, 58, as she struggled to not cry. "There should be a word better than 'thank you.' It's not enough."
Mrs. D'Alvia and her husband, James D'Alvia, a 68-year-old Air Force veteran, were chosen as recipients of a volunteer project by the Abilities Foundation, a Clearwater nonprofit aimed at helping disabled residents and veterans, and the Home Depot Foundation, the charitable wing of the DIY giant.
The couple both suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. They divide the medication between them because it's so expensive. He is also losing his eyesight. They share their home with their grown son Jonathan, who suffered a head injury as a toddler and more recent injuries in a scooter crash, his mother said.
Over the past few years, the family's Magnolia Valley home fell into disrepair. The fence rotted. A section of the overhang on the roof rotted. The Christmas lights and wreath and garland they put on their porch in 2011 was never taken down.
Black mold dripped from their air conditioning unit. Mrs. D'Alvia kept blaming her husband, thinking he was spilling coffee on the floor, until one day she saw a vent oozing.
Their hot water heater broke and, for two months, Mrs. D'Alvia boiled pots of water for their baths, shuffling them back and forth from the kitchen faucet to the bathtub, in pain and terrified she'd lose her grip and burn herself.
Mrs. D'Alvia lived with frustration, wanting to do more but not being able to physically. She wrote a letter to the Abilities Foundation looking for help. The nonprofit contacted the Home Depot Foundation and both decided to help.
In October, they installed a new water heater.
Then, ARS Air Conditioning cleaned the black mold for free, installing a light that should keep it from forming again, said Sylvia McChesney of Home Depot.
Then on Wednesday, employees from the Home Depot at 8445 Little Road in New Port Richey volunteered their off time to come to the house and work. Glenn Schrang, a Home Depot employee in the appliance department, helped remove the old fence and install a new one. He said he volunteers at home renovations for veterans in honor of his brother, Gerard Schrang, a New York City firefighter who died on 9/11.
"They fought for our country," Schrang said. "Gerard would want me to do this."
Brian Donnelly, another employee, often volunteers for these events. "I love being out in the community and helping people less fortunate," he said.
Garden department employee Armando Ortiz Sr. got his 17-year-old son out of school for the morning so they could work on repairing the house together. He wanted to show him that this is how communities take care of their more vulnerable members.
"Somebody needs to be there for them," Ortiz said. "I hope somebody will be there for me when I get old and sick."
Sarah Wallace, an employee who works in the gardening department, designed new landscaping, with vibrantly colored crotons, white and pink azaleas. The group plans to return to replace the rotted piece of roof.
"I wish I had money to give you," Mrs. D'Alvia told Frank De Lucia, president and CEO of Abilities Foundation. He said none was needed. She offered to volunteer for the organization. She can't leave the house because she doesn't have a portable oxygen tank, she said, but she could make phone calls for the agency.
De Lucia was touched. As he walked to check on the team, he said: "The littlest thing can make such a difference in their lives."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.