DOBSON — Volunteers of all skill levels were out in force Saturday to work on a handicapped-accessible house for a local family with a disabled daughter, allowing her to see it “grow” a little more.
“We watch it every day from the window,” mom Sharon Bledsoe said of the ongoing construction project occurring on a lot near the double-wide mobile home her family now occupies on Promise Lane in the Fairview area southwest of Dobson.
“Every time we see a truck pull up, we get excited,” she added.
The family includes Sharon’s husband Randy, their son Kendal, 19, and daughter Katie — the namesake of a project called Operation Katie that has captured the heart of the community.
Katie Bledsoe, now in her early 20s, was just 3 years old when she was involved in car accident in 1994 that caused a traumatic brain injury. This was accompanied by a major stroke affecting the right side of her body, and Katie — a 2013 graduate of Surry Central High School, where she was named homecoming queen last fall — now spends most of her time in a wheelchair.
The ordeal presented by the lack of space in the family’s present home led a church Bible study group in the Dobson area to mobilize and enlist the help of other key volunteers to launch Operation Katie. When announced in March 2011, a fundraising goal of $125,000 was set for the construction.
A groundbreaking was held last April for the home after about $80,000 was generated initially, counting both money from special Katie’s Day and port-a-pit barbecue events, monetary contributions and donations of building materials.
“We just sort of took a leap of faith,” Casey Mitchell, one of those who spearheaded Operation Katie, said of beginning work before all the money needed was in hand.
But everything is falling into place, with the house now taking shape, he said. “As far as the project goes, we’re right on track — everything is happening like we anticipated it would happen,” Mitchell said.
“I think it’s going really well — we’ve made a lot of progress, especially in the last two months,” Josh Comer, another key member of Operation Katie, agreed. “Of course, we always want it to go faster.”
Both Mitchell and Comer stopped short of suggesting a date for the construction to be finished.
“This thing is going to happen when God wants it to happen,” Comer said.
The website operationkatie.com contains information on how to contribute to the cause, and help complete the fundraising effort.
“A Good Feeling”
Due to her condition, Katie didn’t quite understand what was occurring in the project’s early stages, her mother says. But as the house has started to become a reality, she has fully grasped the situation.
“Now she says, ‘my house is growing — it’s growing every day,’” Sharon said in relating how Katie equates the new home to a plant.
“But it’s really cool — it’s really good to see it come up,” she added.
The project got a boost Saturday when a big crowd showed up for a special community building day, including members of church groups whom Mitchell didn’t even know. “It’s been fantastic,” he said during the afternoon, adding that much progress was being made. Another work day is scheduled next Saturday, beginning at 7 a.m.
Sharon Bledsoe said the new house will be a dream come true, citing the little things that make life rough for Katie.
For example, she can’t even get her wheelchair into their existing residence because the door frames aren’t wide enough. “Now her wheelchair stays on the porch,” her mother said.
With nighttime temperatures dipping into the 30s most days, that means encountering a cold wheelchair in the mornings when Katie goes to Lifespan Services on Rockford Road. She is getting help with life skills and other needs at the facility for the developmentally disabled.
The new house will help Katie be more independent, Sharon Bledsoe says. “She will be able to do things on her own that we now need to help her with.”
A much larger restroom will accommodate the wheelchair and there will be space to enable Katie to walk around some and become more mobile overall.
The Bledsoe family has been overwhelmed by the show of community support for its plight.
“Oh my goodness, it is so amazing — it’s a good feeling to know that everybody just loves us so much,” Sharon said.
“It’s a good feeling,” she repeated. “Just to see this happen for Katie, it’s overwhelming.”
Sharon said it is difficult to put into words how much the family appreciates what the Operation Katie group and even total strangers have done to aid a project that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
While Operation Katie organizers don’t know exactly when the new house will be ready for occupancy, Sharon Bledsoe is hoping for some time at the first of the year.
“But anytime is fine with us.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.