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Amityville home renovations a ‘miracle’ for Army vet, mom of 10

On Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, Rebuilding Together Long Island was in its final stages of renovating Army veteran Vanadis Mitchell's Amityville home, which will now include a wheelchair ramp and other upgrades to accomodate disabled members of her family.  (Credit: Barry Sloan)

After Vanadis Mitchell took her sister and nephew — who use wheelchairs and are unable to walk or speak — into her Amityville home in 2016, simple tasks such as leaving the house or getting ready for bed became “major ordeals,” she said.

Mitchell’s sister, Valerie Lee, suffered a massive stroke in 2010, and Lee’s adopted son, Christopher Lee, 18, was born with cerebral palsy. The house had no ramps at any entrance, and the doorway to her nephew’s room was not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, forcing Mitchell, an Army veteran and mother of 10, to lift him over her shoulder and carry him to his bed.

Now, she is thanking a Long Island nonprofit for making the house more accessible, a $15,000 renovation project that is priceless to the 55-year-old homeowner.

“They’re forever in my heart, Mitchell said Tuesday. “There’s not enough money to pay for what they have done.”

Rebuilding Together Long Island — a Farmingdale-based nonprofit volunteer organization that provides home repairs to low-income homeowners who are elderly, veterans, disabled or have families with children — received a $15,000 grant from Lowe’s to make accommodations at Mitchell’s home, said Barbara Nilsen, the group’s president and CEO.

Nonprofit volunteers and Lowe’s employees have worked for two months to install ramps and widen doorways, among other renovations. Mitchell said the improvements are “a blessing” to her and her family.

The group widened the doorway to Christopher Lee’s room and extended a wall to give him more space, said Joe Botkin, Rebuilding Together Long Island’s senior vice president and founder. The group also installed a new toilet, sink and wall-to-wall, walk-in shower that can accommodate a wheelchair, Botkin said, adding that the work should be completed in the next few weeks.

Christopher Lee hadn’t been able to shower in years, Mitchell said, and had been receiving sponge baths. His first shower in the renovated bathroom was “like a celebration,” Mitchell said.

Nilsen said it was “an honor” to help such a generous woman.

Mitchell served as an Army medical service corps officer during Operation Desert Storm, keeping track of troops’ medical records, she said. During her time in the military, she suffered hearing loss in both ears and was struck by lightning through a field phone. Later, she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm while driving home from her civilian job as a New York State parole officer.

Mitchell adopted nine of her 10 children, and a total of 12 people, including children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, share her home, she said.

“To take in all these people, I just can’t imagine,” Nilsen said.

Lee’s daughter Nakiesha Cummings, who also lives in the home, said she is grateful the new ramps have allowed her mother to get outside just about every day, something she loves to do.

“When she was up on her feet she was never in the house,” said Cummings, 42.

Mitchell said she can’t thank the organization enough for what she called “a miracle.”

“I just don’t even know what to say, I really don’t,” she said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

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