Neighbors Give a Boy His Dream Home
01/17/2011 at 01:00 AM EST
SHIRLEY FAYAN, 56, JANICE MILLEY, 47, PAM MACHULSKY, 45, LORI LEONARD, 49
Mt. Laurel, N.J.
Driving her daughter to school every morning for four years, Pam Machulsky would pass a heartbreaking scene: JoAnne Stratton, 35, struggling to get her son Dominic, who uses a wheelchair, onto the school bus as impatient drivers honked. "I thought about the challenges she faced," says Machulsky, 45. "I needed to do something."
At first she left gifts in front of their house. But finally Machulsky worked up the courage to introduce herself-and learned the true hardships the family faced. Having moved from a nearby town to Mt. Laurel for the school services available to Dominic-born prematurely with cerebral palsy-Dave, 43, a warehouse manager, and JoAnne could afford only a 600-sq.-ft. home that was originally a henhouse. It was so cramped that Dominic, 8, slept in a crib and could barely maneuver. Touched by their plight, Machulsky, an administrative assistant, e-mailed hundreds of friends and banded together with three other moms to launch the Dominic's House fund (dominicshouse.com) in November 2009. A year later, through bake sales and donations, they'd raised more than $100,000-enough to level the old house and, with free services from contractor John Canuso Sr., build a wheelchair-accessible, 1,784-sq.-ft. Cape Cod-style house. "It's like a fairy tale," JoAnne says of the home, which has two ramps, a camera to monitor Dominic from other parts of the house and a fully equipped physical therapy room. "Dominic can grow up here. He's doing laps in the hallways. How can I ever thank all these people?"
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