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Accessible house is first for Habitat

October 04, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Freddie Gardin expects life will get easier - and he will become more independent - after he moves into the first handicapped-accessible house built by Habitat for Humanity.

The home is being dedicated today.

Later this month, Gardin, 34, will move from a second-floor apartment off Jonathan Street to the one-floor house on York Road in Halfway. In his new home, he will no longer have to wait for friends to hoist him and his wheelchair up and down the stairs.

His mother, Eleanor Cooper, will no longer have to walk down the street seeking help to get him downstairs - as she has sometimes done - so they can attend church on Sundays.

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"I can leave and go on my own now," he said.

Sitting in the house where he will soon live, Gardin on Friday stared out at what will be his first backyard, talking about plans for a garden, and about how much he looks forward to sitting in his own yard.

"I want to just sit and watch the birds," he said.

Watching him, Habitat Executive Director Sherry Brown Cooper said, "This is one of those real joyful moments that lets me know why I am doing what I am doing."

The bathroom is larger than the one in Gardin's apartment, and he will have rails at the toilet and in the shower. The medicine cabinet is reachable.

The design is excellent, he said. Each doorway is 3 feet wide, which is 4 to 6 inches wider than normal.

"I was floored the first time I went through," he said.

Gardin, a former boxer known by some of his friends as "Luke Cooper," will live in the three-bedroom, one-bathroom house with his mother and niece.

Gardin and his mother have each laid out in their minds what will go where in the house when they move in. Their views don't completely mesh. He hopes they can get a dog; she is not a fan of animals.

Gardin has been in a wheelchair since a bullet pierced his back near his neck on June 29, 1992.

Gardin said he never knew the man who shot him, Jeffrey Rea Bastine. He doesn't know why Bastine shot him and his cousin, who was seriously injured and died two years later. Bastine was sentenced to life plus 20 years in prison in 1993.

The house is the 15th home Habitat for Humanity has built in Washington County, and the first outside Hagerstown city limits, Sherry Brown Cooper said. Habitat had hoped to finish the house by the end of 2002 but the rugged terrain caused additional expenses and delays, she said. Other factors, including the wet winter and spring, contributed to the delay.

The delays didn't phase Gardin, who said he waited patiently.

Much of the money and the volunteer work on the house came from members of the Washington County Lions Club and the Leos, a Lions Club program for youths ages 14 to 18. They also volunteered some of the "sweat equity" time the family must put toward the house.

Gardin's mother did painting, landscaping and other work on the house, and has worked on other Habitat houses as well.

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