Monday afternoon (Feb 4th) we went to the home of a Romanian fellow who is deaf. His girlfriend is also deaf. Our work order said: exposed wiring, ? cooler/Midwest box, enclosure for hot water heater. (the “Midwest box” is the electrical controller for the cooler. They didn’t have one) The client had been referred to CHRPA by the Family Services for the Deaf (TMM). With written notes and gesticulations we got through the application and income verification process and asked them to show us the problems that needed to be fixed. There were few receptacles in the house—none at all in the bedroom and bathroom—so there were cords dangling everywhere. TMM had hired a sub-contractor to re-roof the house. Apparently the roofers had cut the wire to the swamp cooler on the roof. Now the cooler had no electricity and the hot wire was left exposed near the ceiling. (still hot)
Outside we discovered more exposed wiring and dangling light fixtures. An addition that had at one time housed the water heater and the washing machine had been removed, and now a very old water heater was sitting about ten feet from the house with water pipes and gas piping hanging overhead. The washer was outside at one corner of the house and the dryer at the other corner. (It is not uncommon in Arizona to have the water heater outside the home. Appliances are often outside or in a shed.) In addition to this, in the bathroom the toilet bowl was broken and leaking and the shower valve had broken off in the wall.
We decided a new hot water heater should be installed at the back wall of the home with an enclosure. We would move the washer and dryer to the same corner. The client’s son arrived and helped to explain to Ion what we would be doing. Ion became very agitated, signing that he did not want the hot water heater moved and insisting that he did not want a new hot water heater. His son said he did not know why his father was being difficult. We tried to imagine what it might be like to be deaf, to have people you didn’t know arrive and start making decisions about your house and being unable to participate in the conversation. So we backed up and tried to carefully explain what was happening. Normally some of this would have taken place on the phone before we arrived at the job-site, but because Ion is deaf the CHRPA office had not been able to call him. Eventually we discovered that Ion thought the funding through TMM had been used up for the new roof and that he could not afford to pay us for moving the water and gas piping and installation of a new water heater. He thought that we were contractors, and that we would sue him if he could not pay. Through his son we explained that CHRPA is a non-profit agency, that we were volunteers, not sub-contractors. He still seemed to have trouble grasping that concept that anyone would help him for free, but finally he agreed reluctantly to our plan. Surely for him, things were out of (his) control. (CHRPA receives grant money from the state, the county and the city for the materials for home repairs for low-income clients.) Ion’s annual income is around $10,000.
Tuesday morning Ted and I began working on the electrical part of the job and two other volunteers began digging trenches to re-route the gas piping. Ion was much calmer. Much of the time he was outside watching us work, although still with an obvious degree of skepticism.
Wednesday morning we arrived and a smiling Ion held the door for us and welcomed us in. Again he watched as work progressed.
Thursday morning there were three of us on the job instead of four. Ion eagerly joined in the work, assisting with the installation of the new hot water heater and enclosure, and even climbing up on the roof to help with the piping. As the repairs took shape his whole demeanor had changed. He was positively beaming.
On Monday Ted and I will complete the new circuits that we have run. There will be new receptacles in the kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. The swamp cooler will be properly wired with a switch on the living room wall to operate the cooler from inside. There will be new receptacles for the washer and dryer outside. There is a new hot water heater in an enclosure and two new exterior light fixtures. The shower will be fixed and a new toilet installed. All repairs that Ion could not afford.
Ion is smiling.