Central Ave – The Mendez Family
Single mom Yamile Mendez works at a bank, does tax preparation, and waitresses one day a week. But with three children, one of whom has special needs, it’s been difficult to put aside enough money to renovate her Central Avenue house to accommodate a wheelchair. Her 12-year-old son Erik has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects muscle coordination and movement. He can’t be bathed in her regular tub, so relies on sponge baths. She gets a lot of help from her 17-year-old son Danny in caring for Erik. A senior at Hammonton High School, he carries his 89-pound brother in and out of the house, which has no wheelchair ramp.
A coalition of supply companies and construction specialists have been put together who will donate some supplies and all of the labor to put a handicapped accessible bathroom and tub off of Erik’s room, as well as a new exit door and wheelchair ramp. They will also raise the floor to his bedroom, which is in a former porch and requires a step down, she said. Work is planned to start this month, but still needs some funding for building supplies.
DiDonato heard about the family about a year-and-a-half ago from Erik’s former nurse Brandy Endicott, of Galloway Township. She said Erik is not only wheelchair bound, but cannot speak because his vocal chords were severed during an emergency tracheotomy. “Her story to me was Yamile touched her life,” said DiDonato, “being a single mom with additional challenges.” “She saw me every day,” said Yamile, and what it took to keep the household running. She also has a 7-year-old daughter Angelik. Endicott’s husband Chuck, an engineer, worked up a design plan for the addition and ramp. “He came to me and said, ‘Maybe you can help this family’,” DiDonato said. So she started working her contacts, which are substantial since she organized a network of vetted service providers called Property Manager Resources. But it was a little too soon after Hurricane Sandy, said DiDonato. “People were worn out and overwhelmed,” she said of construction companies, volunteers and donors. It took longer than she would have liked, but now the project is about to get off the ground.Universal Supply, based in Hammonton, was the first to offer a donation of supplies more than a year ago, DiDonato said. That made her think the project really might be possible. Hammonton Rotary and Chamber of Commerce are helping, as are several other companies. “And every one of the tradesmen’s groups have volunteered labor,” DiDonato said. That includes roofers, siding contractors, concrete masons, electricians and HVAC professionals, and plumbers. They are coming from around Atlantic County as well as from neighboring counties of Gloucester, Camden and Cape May, she said. DiDonato figures the project still needs to raise about $3,000 to get to completion. While examining the house, it became clear the furnace would need to be replaced. Even though they are getting it at a discount, that alone added about $1,100 to the cost, she said.
- By MICHELLE B. POST, Staff Writer for the Press of Atlantic City
Donations may be made by clicking on the “Donate Now” button on the right or checks may be mailed to Habitat at P.O. Box 443, Pleasantville, NJ 08232. Please write “Mendez project” in the memo area. There is also a Friends of Erik Mendez Community Project page at facebook.com/eriksfriends.