NEW PORT RICHEY — The 18-wheeler stopped Wednesday morning in the middle of Cherrytree Lane. Mindy Berg and her mother, Marilyn Haines, were inside their home when they first saw the truck, its flatbed loaded with lumber and heavy equipment.
They had known something was on its way. The story of Mindy's husband, John Berg III, paralyzed at 33 from a brain stem stroke, had spread beyond their Magnolia Valley neighborhood and out past the county line. They had known people wanted to help. They just didn't think it would look like this.
"We were just both still kind of in shock," Mindy said. "I didn't expect anything of this magnitude."
The helpers had a plan. They would lay a ramp in the back of the home to accommodate John's wheelchair. They would build a wooden deck in the back yard, a place John hadn't seen since his stroke in December 2007 on his way from work as security camera technician at Diebold.
And they would line the yard with hedges and privacy fencing, building the family its own personal sanctuary.
"The last 2 1/2 years have been a roller coaster ride of near-death experiences," said John's dad, John Berg Jr., who lives in Tarpon Springs. "I'm not an emotional guy, but this choked me up."
About 40 people — volunteers from two local Home Depots and the Abilities Foundation, all of them taking time off work and nearly all of them strangers to the Bergs — arrived at the family's home Thursday morning. They rolled wheelbarrows of concrete and nailed beams together and chopped oak roots with a stump grinder to keep the deck level. They sweated. They crouched in the dirt and smashed their fingers and worked in the rain and sticky heat.
"I told my husband I wouldn't do this at my home," said volunteer Rebecca Landt, electrical supervisor at the Home Depot in Seminole. "But this is fun."
Inside, John sat silently in his chair. He mouthed to Mindy, "I feel bad that everyone's out there doing this work for me. I feel like I don't deserve it."
Mindy read his lips. If things were different, John would be the one out there helping. She told him to remember the help for when he gets better.
The Bergs' sons — Johnny, 6, and Jamie, 4 — walked amid the bustling volunteer crews, climbing the oak trees.
"Hey, guys," Jamie said. "Can I show you something?"
He walked to the edge of the yard. Mindy, holding Johnny at her side, followed.
"What?" she asked. "That big pile of dirt in the corner?"
A key lime tree, bought during John and Mindy's honeymoon in Key West, would soon sit in this corner, chosen by workers for its ample sunlight. For now there was just a hill of dirt and three wooden boards.
It didn't matter. Jamie began to walk the planks, back and forth. Johnny followed him. Over the roar of a buzz saw, the boys had made their own balance beams.
Reach Drew Harwell at [email protected] or (727) 869-6244.