A Mountain of Impact

September 20, 2011

Don and Debra Reasor had been married for 24 years, and had lived in their aging Knoxville home just as long. Most of their life was simple, even ordinary. Don worked at UT Hospital for many years before moving onto a security position with the DOT. He then took a position with a rental property management organization, and was happy working with a friend as his boss. But that existence vanished in a flash when Don was diagnosed with a life-threatening form of cancer. The cancer wreaked havoc on his mouth and neck and would result in many painful and expensive surgeries in the months to come. During a two year long battle with the cancer, Don survived intense jaw surgery, many days of draining chemo and an operation that relocated one of his chest muscles to his throat in order to restore minimal throat functionality. Even with the cancer in remission though, his health struggles were far from over.

In a recent visit to the doctor, Don and his wife Debra learned that Don had three bean sized tumors growing in his brain. Radiation therapy would have to begin immediately, even in Don’s weakened state from his recent fight with cancer. The brain tumors and radiation therapy led to new challenges. Don had a close call one day in July when he fell through a glass coffee table in an effort to stabilize himself from dizziness from the tumors. He sustained considerable injuries from the large sharp shards of glass. The couple also faced new financial difficulties. Because of the way their medical program works, they were forced to choose between hospice care and medical CT scans because they could not afford both. They exhausted their finances with medical care and could afford little more than the basics.

Despite the obstacles and many struggles, Debra became Don’s number one champion and caregiver. Her efforts of constant attention allowed Don to stay in his house, where he could rest in the comfort of knowing he was home. Debra, disabled herself by crippling arthritis, had to ensure that Don can be transported to every doctor visit, despite his lack of mobility. She began utilizing a ride service that could accommodate Don’s wheelchair, but the service’s restrictions dictated that drivers could not help Debra get Don down the front stairs of their home. Occasionally, Debra had been able to lean on the help of neighbors for this monumental task. Tim, a neighbor and friend, used to help until he recently relocated. Tim is a former Marine who lost one leg in battle, but even then, was willing to lend a hand. Most times though, Debra was left to do the job herself, which was near impossible with her arthritic condition. Little did the Reasors know though, that Operation Backyard was on the way with help.

During the week of September 12th, employees from a local Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) plant gave of their time and energy to work as part of a volunteer effort through Knoxville Leadership Foundation’s (KLF) Operation Backyard Program. Operation Backyard offers free home repair services to low income homeowners who cannot afford the repairs. The program coordinates efforts with local student and adult volunteers to complete projects such as replacing roofs, building wheelchair ramps and painting. Thus far in 2011, Operation Backyard has engaged over 750 volunteers and has completed 51 successful home repair projects. The repair plan for the Reasor home included installing a new roof and an access ramp for Don’s wheelchair.

With their resources depleted, the Reasors would never have been able to afford the home repairs on their own. In a moment of excitement, Don exclaimed, “That ramp will be a lifesaver.” Both Don and Debra knew that without the ramp, Don’s remaining time in the house would be limited. A new access ramp would ease their situation and keep them at home together. Debra would no longer have to navigate the stairs with Don in his wheelchair. She would be able to simply push the chair down the ramp and right up to the waiting medical transport van. The ramp would ensure that Don would be able to continue to stay in the place he called home for almost 30 years. Although the family was not expecting the new roof as part of the deal, they were pleasantly surprised. Debra expressed sheer gratitude of heart at all her blessings, even despite the obvious challenges of her life.

The GMCR team worked tirelessly to install a new roof. The roof on the Reasor home was over 26 years old. The GMCR team then moved on to plan the access ramp which would replace the front stairs. However, with the new roof in place, the week’s work took an unexpected turn of events. Sometime during the night of Wednesday, September 14th, due to the severe nature of his illness, Don passed away. His life was cut short, but he is no longer in the aggravated state of pain in which he lived he last days.

Despite the change in plans that resulted from Don’s untimely death, the GMCR team of employees gained much from their experience with Operation Backyard. The group explained that their involvement with the project “made them feel blessed and grateful” and that they “learned a lot.” Mark Eskridge of GMCR said, “I enjoy helping other people. Others have helped me, so I try to give back when I can.” Stephanie Myers, the GMCR coordinator for the project, explained that even though the employees still receive pay for the day, it is never about the money. She expounded on this thought by saying that most people want to volunteer but find it hard to find time outside a full time job. GMCR gives them the time, which is far more valuable than the day’s pay. Valerie Stewart legitimized this when she said, “Being able to volunteer is a blessing at my job. I like working for a company who cares about others.” GMCR believes that participating in projects like Operation Backyard during the work day is a way to get new people volunteering and that once people discover volunteering, a passion will grow and they will do it even when not getting paid.

At the end of the day, the project was a success for everybody involved. Now a widow, Debra Reasor no longer has to worry about a deteriorating roof. The GMCR employees gained an invaluable experience by using their hands to touch the lives of the Reasor family when they needed it most. Don will be forever remembered, and Operation Backyard will continue in its mission to touch hearts and change lives.

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