written by: CCCI Today's staff writer

Nestled in a small northwest Connecticut town, an 81-year-old man continues to

live alone at home thanks to a village of people and organizations coming

together to make a real impact on his life. He is surrounded by natural beauty

very typical of the Litch eld Hills. The long driveway to his home makes a path

through trees that, at this time of year, are lush with foliage. Off to the right of

his small and modest house sits a pond large enough on which to row a small

boat. Boulders are scattered perfectly on the hills facing both sides of the home

where bobcats, mountain lions and even a bear or two have been spotted. 


James Bates purchased his property 17 years ago. He speaks fondly of a time

when he took immaculate care of the land. “There are so many weeds out there

now,” Mr. Bates explains with an apology. “I used to be out there weeding and

enjoyed every minute of it, but I can’t anymore. My balance is shot. Did you

see the pond?”he continues. “It used to be beautiful surrounded with so many

yellow irises. Now there are more weeds than irises,” he says in dismay. The yellow irises are actually still bountiful, but weeds have staked their territory among them. 


As one ages, home upkeep often suffers. Tasks that once were done effortlessly in a couple of hours, now take days. Often, they cannot be done at all. Mr. Bates loves his home, his property and his life with nature living in the woods. But this World War II veteran, a former member of the U.S. military stationed in the Alps, needed help to continue to stay there. The Connecticut Home Program provides the services he needs to be able to do so. 


CCCI Care Manager Bob Bennett, who coordinates with Mr. Bates’ to develop a care plan and arrange for and monitor services that remain responsive to his needs, noticed that his home needed significant attention. Bob knew Mr. Bates wanted to stay at home, but certain repairs and renovations were needed to assist him to do so safely. Bob decided to nominate Mr. Bates for the “Heroes at Home” program, a partnership between Sears Holdings and Rebuilding Together. The purpose of the partnership is to respond to an urgent and growing need to assist military families facing hardship. Happily, Mr. Bates’ was accepted into the program and work on his home and property began in late April, after an extremely harsh winter and concluded at the end of May. 


Ceia Webb, executive director of Rebuilding Together Litch eld County, said more than 27 volunteers logged 284 hours of time on the project at Mr. Bates’ home and four skilled laborers logged in an additional 225 hours. “It was quite difficult getting to the house with the condition of the driveway - this past winter converted the dirt driveway into a mud pit. We brought in two truckloads of gravel and spread it, so it was useable once more. What a difference it has made.


” This became a community-wide labor of love for one man - a stranger to most. In addition to a new driveway, the veteran received a new stove and a new refrigerator; new industrial carpeting for the downstairs; a new, sturdy ramp to a now year-round heated sun porch that serves as his new entry way; a new mattress and egg crate overlay and fresh paint on the interior walls. A new well cap to make the water potable was also supplied. All of his furniture was polished, his dishes were cleaned and his clothing and bedding were professionally laundered. Workers even revitalized landscaping around the home to create paths and easier entry ways into the house.


Perhaps the most important contribution to the project, significantly improving Mr. Bates’ quality of life, is the newly built full downstairs bathroom. Due to balance issues, Mr. Bates was no longer able to make it upstairs alone to use the bathroom. Instead, he improvised by using a commode his home health aide to empty. Needless to say, an easily accessible and functioning flushable toilet, something most of us take for granted, brings a wide smile to Mr. Bates’ face. A shower seat in the new shower provides the safety and security he wants to maintain his balance.

Some of the many community groups and individuals that volunteered, working to refurbish the Bates home and property included:

• St. Andrews Episcopal Marbledale youth group • St. Paul’s Church - Bridgewater
• Jeff Kilson
• Mike Blasi

• Douglas Williams

• Peg Molina

• Christine Thomas – Rebuilding Together House Captain

• Bill Witcher
• Mr. Bates’ neighbors who provided driveway

parking for the many volunteers

• Countless others who volunteered their time and strengths.


Heartfelt thanks to all those who donated materials for the project, including:

  • Hugh Reid - carpet and insulation

  • New Milford Septic - hook-up

  • Jeff Kilson - heavy equipment for driveway reconditioning

  • McCarthy Electric - porch electric heat unit

  • Blasi Roo ng - patching materials for the roof

  • Peg Molina and Christine Thomas - laundry

  • And many other who made individual donations. 


In the midst of all of these wonderful happenings, Mr. Bates unfortunately had to be admitted to a skilled nursing facility. Upon admission, his homecare services ceased and those who provided his in-home services could not be paid again until his return. Nevertheless, Bill Witcher, his home health aide, continued coming to the home to make sure everything was moving along on schedule with the renovations and other work. He ultimately ended up volunteering more than 50 hours of his own time helping to get the home back in order for Mr. Bates. He reorganized the furniture, stocked the new refrigerator with food and replenished the cabinets. He donated and installed curtains and valances to add comfort and hung a towel rack and pictures in the new downstairs bathroom. Bill was also there for Mr. Bates’ joyous homecoming and has since resumed his paid home health aide position visiting twice a week for a couple of hours to help out.


CCCI’s Bob Bennett recently visited Mr. Bates’ to make sure he was set up with the services he wanted after his return from the skilled nursing facility. Bob found Mr. Bates sitting comfortably in his new lift chair, donated through CCCI’s Independent Living Fund. Before leaving, Bob asked Mr. Bates if he was satisfied with the visit and if there was anything else he needed. Mr. Bates replied that he was all set. 


“Another successful project complete,” stated Ceia Webb. “Not only does it leave the veteran and homeowner smiling, it brings great joy to the many volunteers who gave of their time and services. That’s why this organization is called Rebuilding Together - valued partnerships develop and continue to grow; new relationships and friendships emerge, and the appreciation of the volunteers and helpers who come together for community is remarkable. We rebuild together, strengthening community in many ways.”


An old tree continues to need the same sunlight, water and care that a younger tree needs to grow. As the tree ages, more maintenance may be needed, for example, pruning back branches. Though a tree may not live forever, if regular care is given, the tree will continue to flourish, grow and provide shade and enjoyment for all. Let us all be arborists!