Season for Caring: Where are they now? Gordon Meeler

CG&S Design Build and its partners turned a bedroom in Gordon Meeler’s home into a wheelchair accessible bathroom. The 74-year-old Marine was part of Season for Caring in 2015. Before Season for Caring, he lived in his living room and used plastic buckets for his bathroom. Tre Dunham Fine Focus Photography
CG&S Design Build and its partners turned a bedroom in Gordon Meeler’s home into a wheelchair accessible bathroom. The 74-year-old Marine was part of Season for Caring in 2015. Before Season for Caring, he lived in his living room and used plastic buckets for his bathroom. Tre Dunham Fine Focus Photography

Last Thanksgiving Gordon Meeler was confined to his living room. The Marine, who served in Vietnam, is partially paralyzed and his wheelchair could not fit through the hallways of his South Austin home.

Meeler slept in his living room, and unable to access the bathroom, he used tall plastic buckets instead. His kitchen was also inaccessible to him.

Then Meeler was nominated by Family Eldercare to the Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring program. On Nov. 29, 2015, Meeler’s story touched many readers. Contractors and remodelers called up that day ready to help.

CG&S Design Build turned a bedroom into an accessible bathroom with a roll-in shower. Last April, when the work was completed, he took his first shower in more than a year.

Brothers Pete and Matt Mehlenbacher rebuilt his kitchen and fixed a roof leak. Now Meeler can access the counters and the cabinets.

“They did a good job,” says Meeler, 74. “The kitchen’s perfect. I can actually use it … I can see better in there, and I can get around and reach everything better.”

Season for Caring is the Statesman’s holiday charity program, but the donations help families throughout the year. Each year, local nonprofit agencies nominate families to the program. The 12 selected families get their needs met first, but then the agencies use extra money to help other families with basic needs such as rent, utilities, groceries, medical bills and transportation.

Since the program began in 1999, Season for Caring has raised more than $9.7 million. Last year, the greater Austin community donated $580,187 in monetary donations and $157,277 worth of in-kind goods and services, such as remodeling Meeler’s home.

“Thank you for all the help I got,” Meeler says. “I appreciate it. Thank you.”

Watch a video of Meeler before Season for Caring, here.

On Sunday, Nov. 27, we’ll introduce you to a dozen new families. All this week you can learn how the 2015 Season for Caring families are doing.

Read all the stories and make a donation at statesman.com/seasonforcaring.

 

Season for Caring’s Qusay Hussein receives GED, 10 years after bomb took his vision

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Qusay Hussein received his GED from Austin Community College on Thursday, May 12. Photo by Austin Community College

Last night Iraqi war survivor Qusay Hussein, 27, received his GED from Austin Community College. Hussein was part of the 2013 Season for Caring program and was nominated by Interfaith Action of Central Texas.

Season for Caring highlights the needs of about a dozen Central Texas families each year and helps hundreds of others through reader donations.

Qusay Hussein, now 27, has had more than 50 surgeries on his face after a car bomb in Iraq blinded him when he was 17.  RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2013
Qusay Hussein, now 27, has had more than 50 surgeries on his face after a car bomb in Iraq blinded him when he was 17. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2013

Hussein came to the States after his face was severely damaged by a bomb when he was 17. The bomb left him blind and he has had multiple surgeries to repair his face, including some this spring.

One of the things Season for Caring donations did for Hussein was help him improve his English. It also connected him with Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, which taught him how to navigate the city as a person who is blind.

When we checked in on him in November 2014, he told us: 

“I’d like to say, “thank you,” for anyone who support me and helped me,” he says. “If anybody needs help, I’m ready to help them. When someone helps you, you need to help them.”

Statesman reporter Michael Barnes, who originally brought us Hussein’s story as part of Season for Caring, has been following his progress and will have an update story next month.

Trailer with Season for Caring donations stolen from Interfaith Action of Central Texas

Rosa Lee Pennick, 85, is a home caregiver for three other women. Pennick rests on the couch that she uses as a bed every night. She needs one of the rooms in her home to be converted into a bedroom for her.   LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Rosa Lee Pennick, 85, is a home caregiver for three other women. Pennick rests on the couch that she uses as a bed every night.
LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Wednesday morning as staff members at Interfaith Action of Central Texas were coming to work, they noticed their 6-foot-by-12-foot white cargo trailer was gone from their parking lot on East 17th Street.

The trailer with license plate 45ZPSB is used throughout the year for the nonprofit organization’s Hands on Housing program, which repairs homes for people in need. But throughout December and January, it becomes the place where the group stores the in-kind donations for its Season for Caring family.

The Statesman Season for Caring program features the stories of 12 families nominated by local nonprofit groups each year. In-kind donations and monetary donations go to help the featured families as well as hundreds of other families through the nonprofit agencies.

For the 2015 program, Interfaith Action nominated Rosa Lee Pennick, an 85-year-old woman who is caring for three seniors ages 70 to 100 in her home.

Typically, Interfaith Action collects items and then delivers them quickly to the family. But this year, it was waiting to deliver a load of donations until after ABC Home & Commercial completed bed bug eradication this week. ABC had donated 50 percent of the cost of the service to help Pennick.

The trailer was holding a wheelchair, electric scooter with hand controls, large-capacity washer and dryer, a stove/oven, adult diapers and bed pads, worth a total of $3,465.

Interfaith Action has filed a police report and is working with its insurance company to see what might be covered.

This is not the first time a nonprofit organization has had a trailer stolen. Last April, Mobile Loaves & Fishes had a trailer stolen that it used for its art program.

If you can donate an item for the Pennick family, contact Interfaith Action, 512-386-9145, interfaithtexas.org. Season for Caring is still collecting monetary donations through Sunday for the 2015 program. Make a donation at statesman.com/seasonforcaring or with the coupon on page D3.

Give now: Last week for Season for Caring donations

Season for Caring donations for the 2015 program come to a close on Sunday. Consider giving if you haven’t yet or consider making an additional donation if you already have.

use for ad teases: 151024 GEORGETOWN, TEXAS:  Tiara McGee, 20, left, and her sister, Chanse, 17, pose for a portrait at their family home on Saturday, October 24, 2015.  Their mother is Tabitha McGee.    The McGee family is a 2015 Austin American-Statesman  Season for Caring family.  Though struggling with cancer and other health-related issues, Tabitha McGee has raised her daughters by herself.  They face financial hurdles and also need repairs to their home.   Goes with profile story by Rachel Rice.   Andy Sharp / For the American-Statesman.
Tiara McGee, 20, left, and her sister, Chanse, 17, pose for a portrait. Their mother Tabitha McGee has had breast cancer since 2011. Andy Sharp / For the American-Statesman.

We are so close to hitting last year’s numbers. Right now readers have given $573,506 in cash donations and $134,157 for a total of $707,663. That’s only about $6,000 less than last year. 2015 is still the fourth best year in the campaign’s 17-year history. We’ve now raised $9.7 million to help Central Texas nonprofit agencies and their families since 1999.

How can you get involved:

Consider making a monetary donation with the coupon in the paper or on Statesman.com/seasonforcaring.

Or consider giving an in-kind donation to one of the families. Here are their stories and their remaining wish list items:

Mia Garcia, 8, was diagnosed with a tumor in her neck and behind one eye after a cat she rescued scratched her eye. She began chemotherapy earlier this year. Julia Robinson/ FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN;
Mia Garcia, 8, was diagnosed with a tumor in her neck and behind one eye after a cat she rescued scratched her eye. She began chemotherapy earlier this year. Julia Robinson/ FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Mia Garcia, 8, was diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis, an immune system disease. The family still has a few things on their wish list, including an immigration lawyer; a wedding and wedding rings; a child’s desk; a computer with a printer and Internet access; and a large toy box. Foundation Communities, 512-447-2026, foundcom.org

Gerónimo Flores, 71, and his wife Cordelia, 73, play with their grandson, Neamiah, 3, in their home, which they have lived in for more than 40 years. Rising taxes and health concern make it hard to stay in the home. Note: Geronimo has an accent over the first o  110215 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Gerónimo Flores, 71, and his wife Cordelia, 73, play with their grandson, Neamiah, 3, in their home, which they have lived in for more than 40 years. Rising taxes and health concern make it hard to stay in the home.
Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Gerónimo, 71, and Cordelia, 73, Flores deal with illnesses including heart disease and renal failure. They need reading glasses, household repairs, a computer, printer and car repairs. Meals on Wheels and More, 512-476-6325, mealsonwheelsandmore.org.

Angel and Brett Copenhaver read books in the neighborhood park with daughter 12-year old Emma and their dog Calcifer. Suzanne Cordeiro / For American-Statesman
Angel and Brett Copenhaver read books in the neighborhood park with daughter 12-year old Emma and their dog Calcifer. Suzanne Cordeiro / For American-Statesman

Emma Copenhaver, 12, has lupus; her mother, Angel, 28, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and her father, Brett, 27, had to take a pay reduction at work. They need car repairs, assistance with medical bills, household items, an electrician to install ceiling fans and a gym membership with a pool for Emma to swim. Any Baby Can, 512-454-3743,anybabycan.org.

Juana Ramirez and her children Stephanie and Marcus will get the help they need through your donations. Laura Skelding/American-Statesman
Juana Ramirez and her children Stephanie and Marcus will get the help they need through your donations. Laura Skelding/American-Statesman

Juana Ramirez, 29, and her two children have come back from homelessness. They still need help with physical therapy and emotional therapy for 8-year-old Marcus. Communities In Schools of Central Texas, 512-462-1771, ciscentraltexas.org.

Tabitha McGee, 42, has had breast cancer for four years. She is an Army veteran and now works with special education students.  Andy Sharp / For the American-Statesman
Tabitha McGee, 42, has had breast cancer for four years. She is an Army veteran and now works with special education students. Andy Sharp / For the American-Statesman

Tabitha McGee, 42, has had breast cancer, and she and her daughters need help with utilities payments; bedroom and living room furniture; duct work; a professional cleaning of the heating and air conditioning system; ceiling fans and a car. The Care Communities, 512-459-5883,thecarecommunities.org.

use for ad teases: Season for Caring: Kylie Guess loves to read. The Guess Family has multiple medical concerns. Dad, Shawn Guess has a brain tumor, mom, Megan Shaw has Common Variable Immuno-Deficiency, daughter Kylie, 9, has juvenile arthritis, and son Carl, 3, has a speech delay.  LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Shawn Guess, 39, has an inoperable brain tumor; his wife, Megan, 34, has common variable immune deficiency, 9-year-old Kylie has juvenile arthritis and asthma; and 3-year-old Carl has a speech delay. They need help with rent and utilities, Internet service, cellphone service, medical debt, car insurance, a dresser and storage for toys. Wonders & Worries, 512-329-5757,wondersandworries.org.

Jared Shaw, left, plays the harmonica, as his brother, Justin Cassiday, right, listens at the Shaw home in Hutto.  Their mom has had breast cancer for 12 years. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Jared Shaw, left, plays the harmonica, as his brother, Justin Cassiday, right, listens at the Shaw home in Hutto. Their mom has had breast cancer for 12 years. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Aimee Shaw, 43, has inflammatory breast cancer. Her son Jared Shaw, 20, has autism and seizures. Her son Justin Cassiday, 26, has post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in Afghanistan. They need help with mortgage payments, utilities, medical bills, student loan debts, car repairs and day care for Cassiday’s daughter Maddy, 3. Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas, 512-524-2560, bcrc.org.

June and Kenneth Bonewitz of Round Rock have their own disabilities, she has had cerebral palsy since birth and bipolar disorder and he has seizures and short-term memory loss from a brain injury sustained in a car accident back in high school, but they also care for June's mother who has Alzheimer's. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN
June and Kenneth Bonewitz of Round Rock have their own disabilities, she has had cerebral palsy since birth and bipolar disorder and he has seizures and short-term memory loss from a brain injury sustained in a car accident back in high school, but they also care for June’s mother who has Alzheimer’s. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

June Bonewitz, 44, has cerebral palsy and her husband, Kenneth Bonewitz, 50, has a brain injury from a car accident. They care for her mom, Margie Spinn, 76, who has Alzheimer’s disease. They need Dragon voice-recognition software, training for their dogs to become service animals, entrepreneurial training, funeral planning, legal help for a power of attorney and financial planning. Austin Groups for the Elderly of Central Texas, 512-992-3440, ageofcentraltx.org.

During the Memorial Day floods, Sherra Parten was living in C.M. Allen Homes, a public housing project in San Marcos.   After the floods, her home was uninhabitable.   In June, Parten was able to move into a mobile home in San Marcos, where she now lives with her 33-year-old daughter, Julie Payne  and Payne's daughter, Amanda, 3.   Andy Sharp / For the American-Statesman.
During the Memorial Day floods, Sherra Parten was living in C.M. Allen Homes, a public housing project in San Marcos. After the floods, her home was uninhabitable. Andy Sharp / For the American-Statesman.

Sherra Parten, 56, her daughter and granddaughter relocated since the Memorial Day weekend flooding destroyed their apartment. They need gift cards for gas, an upright freezer, a bunk bed, a nightstand and a stereo system. Community Action Inc., 512-392-1161,communityaction.com.

Rosa Lee Pennick, 85, is a home caregiver for three other women. Pennick rests on the couch that she uses as a bed every night. She needs one of the rooms in her home to be converted into a bedroom for her.   LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Rosa Lee Pennick, 85, is a home caregiver for three other women. Pennick rests on the couch that she uses as a bed every night. She needs one of the rooms in her home to be converted into a bedroom for her.
LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Rosa Lee Pennick is 85 and caring for three senior women ages 70-100 in her home. She needs new flooring, remodeling of a dining area into a bedroom, bedroom furniture, a security system with voice alerts and a stove. Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145, interfaithtexas.org.

Siriro Hakizimana, 32,  helps his daughter, Oreya Igiraneza, 9, with her homework as Honorine Niyubahwe, 6, bottom left, and Andre Hakizimana, 3, watch. At top right is Mary Munerezo, 8. The family has been in Austin for less than a year. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN on Friday, October 23, 2015.  NOTE: Oreya turns 10 on 12/2/15
Siriro Hakizimana, 32, helps his daughter, Oreya Igiraneza, 10, with her homework as Honorine Niyubahwe, 6, bottom left, and Andre Hakizimana, 3, watch. At top right is Mary Munerezo, 8. The family has been in Austin for less than a year. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Hakizimana family came to the United States from a refugee camp in Tanzania last spring. They just got a used van donated to them, but need car seats for the children, insurance and gift cards for gas. They also need a washer and dryer; a computer; vocational training and English language learning programs. Caritas of Austin, 512-808-9008, caritasofaustin.org.

Gordon Meeler, 73, sits at his home in Austin.   JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Gordon Meeler, 73, sits at his home in Austin. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Gordon Meeler, 73, has had many of his needs fulfilled as his new accessible bathroom and kitchen are being built. The only thing left on his wish are size 7 diabetic shoes with Velcro. Family Eldercare, 512-450-0844, familyeldercare.org.