Friends and neighbors help build a new path for my grandson | Opinion

By John Hamer, For the Reporter

We all have paths in our lives. Some are rough, bumpy, and dangerous. We prefer our paths to be smooth, safe, and easy to navigate. We need paths to reach our goals.

If you are in a wheelchair, paths are a special challenge. My grandson Ford, now 6 years old, has taught me that. He was born with an extremely rare genetic disorder called CTNNB1 Syndrome. That’s the name of the gene that was randomly tweaked before he was born. As a result, he cannot walk, speak, or feed himself. His path in life has been tough. His greatest joy is the freedom his wheelchair gives him; you might have seen him zooming around Mercerdale Park, laughing all the way!

For his parents, who are constantly with him on his path, this has been profoundly life-changing. He needs care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round. They have stepped up to that challenge in an extraordinary way. (See for more about their story.)

My wife and I, Ford’s grandparents, help as much as we can. But we recently took another huge step on our family’s mutual path: We convinced them to move into our house, a 1-story rambler near the Jewish Community Center, and out of their 3rd-floor condominium near the Metropolitan Market. We’re moving into another home nearby.

Our rambler is much easier for Ford to navigate in his wheelchair. It has a large deck and backyard that he can wheel around on, which he loves to do. We had previously installed a metal wheelchair ramp up to our front porch. However, an old path from a side concrete parking pad was treacherous: narrow with a gravel surface. Gravel doesn’t work well for wheelchairs.

So we decided to build a new path before they move in. I called several landscape and concrete companies, but their schedules were full and their costs pretty high. We needed the path done in a hurry at a reasonable price. So I started the project myself: DIY!

I tried something I had never done before: Ask for help on social media. I put pictures of the old gravel path on Facebook, including a group Facebook page called “Mercer Island Neighbors.” I was blown away by the results. Within minutes, I had folks offering to come help, including total strangers.

David Cutright, who has a company called Safety At Home, came over and gave me free professional advice. He went over all the options. No charge, he insisted. He also helped me find a good source of gravel and sand, which I ordered.

Vadim Volk, whose wife had seen my posts, called and came by to consult. He had done similar projects and had a variety of tools – including an electric jackhammer with a shovel tip. He spent about 90 minutes working after dark to remove dirt and sod. He loaned me a heavy tamper to prepare the bed.

Randy Hagen, a Mercer Island realtor, worked for several hours shoveling and hauling dirt.

Quinn Mitchell, a Mercer Island high school student, worked with Randy for two hours.

Cyrus Krohn, an old friend who lives in Issaquah, came the next day to shovel and rake gravel.

Matthew Carlson, the son of an old friend, worked with Cyrus all afternoon and offered to come again.

Denna Meisner said she had some surplus concrete pavers that might work for the new surface. When I went to pick them up, her strapping son Alex helped load them into my car.

Jeff Miller also offered some concrete pavers, which my wife and I picked up and he helped us load.

Eric Teachout, who was working on a neighbor’s yard across the street, saw me unloading pavers and came over to help.

When it snowed as Christmas approached, we had to put the project on hold. I also realized that I couldn’t finish it by myself, even with volunteer help, in time for Ford and his family to move in.

So I found a local landscape company, Seattle Sustainable Landscapes, to finish the job. They will order and deliver concrete pavers, install new edging, and repurpose my used brick to make the new path look good.

David McCary, who runs the company, told me my volunteers had done a fabulous job of getting the path ready to complete.

I can’t thank all these people enough. They saw my plea and responded big-time. They were all empathetic to Ford’s condition; several had family members or friends affected by rare diseases or disabilities.

With a new year ahead, I am deeply grateful to all my neighbors and friends who stepped up to help Ford and his aging grandfather.

I am not a religious man but this has made me believe in angels. Some of them live right here on Mercer Island. Just say the word and they will take your hand as you follow your path.

Mercer Island resident John Hamer is a retired journalist and grandfather of four who tries to avoid heavy lifting (including grandchildren) because his back goes out occasionally and he needs a path to a long hot bath. Email