On a popular television show, an extreme makeover of a family home is achieved in seven days with a crew of hundreds of people. Out here on the Key Peninsula, a similarly miraculous makeover was achieved for Sue Gorman’s home in two days with a few more than one hundred volunteers.
When the work was done, television trucks, newspaper reporters, cameras and microphones all showed up to record the revelation of a complete makeover.
Gorman suffered a brutal dog attack in her Minterbrook Homes neighborhood on Aug. 21. She was asleep when two pit bulls entered her home through the sliding door on her back porch. It was left partially open for her service dog, Misty and for Romeo, a neighbor’s Jack Russell Terrier, who often stayed with Gorman when his family was away from home. Romeo was killed in the attack. Gorman and Misty escaped from the house.
“It was the most vicious animal attack I’ve seen,” says Lt. Bill Sawaya, Fire District 16 paramedic who responded to the call. “It was lucky she put her hands up to guard herself, or it would have been her throat and that would be life threatening.”
Gorman’s story came to the attention of the local Safe Street Mobilization Specialist Andrea Jerabek and to construction contractor Bruce Bodine, whose organization, Need-A-Break, offers home repair assistance. Jerabek had just started the third week on her new job and her main task was to find office space. When she went to Gorman’s home and saw the damage, her priorities took a drastic shift. She began organizing help to clean the house. She admits it was an extremely difficult undertaking, almost overwhelming.
At about the same time Need-A-Break learned that a fence was needed to secure Gorman’s property. Bodine contacted Jerabek and said he would like to help with the fence. When Bodine visited Gorman’s home, it was clear to him that much more than a fence was needed. The house was a mess. Rooms were splattered with blood. Pepper spray residue contaminated the furnishings. It had been difficult for the emergency rescue crew to locate the house because the shrub and brush had grown over the house numbers. What was needed was an extreme makeover. That was a new dimension for Bodine’s organization, but he decided to join Jerabek and make it happen.
Bodine’s daughter, Julie, began working with Jerabek to organize volunteers. Bodine contacted the many professional contractors, painters and roofers who had worked with him previously on home repair projects. On the second weekend in September, nearly 150 volunteer workers showed up to work with the truckloads of tools and equipment belonging to the professional team. In two days, they achieved an extreme makeover from roof to roots. All new shingles, carpet, cupboards, appliances, light fixtures, furniture, drapes, windows, doors, a custom-made doggie door, patio, driveway, inside and outside paint, flowered paths, pruned trees, a landscaped corner lot with 30 bird houses, and a cedar fence were ready to surprise Gorman on her homecoming by 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9.
A new storm door was hung and the glass was shined as the car bringing Gorman home turned down her street. The driver was Gorman’s good friend, Leana Beasley, who made her wear a blindfold and told her to expect a big surprise. Beasley led Gorman through a hushed crowd to stand before a huge bus blocking the view to her house. When the blindfold was lifted, her first surprise was the size of the “welcome home” crowd. Many of them were the volunteers who had worked on her house for the past two days. As she tried to adjust to the people and a battery of cameras, the crowd shouted, “Driver, move this bus!” The diesel engine roared, the bus drove away, and there was Gorman’s beautiful home welcoming her.
Gorman walked shakily up the new concrete drive. “It’s like my dream home,” she said. Lt. Sawaya was there to greet Gorman. She tucked her arm under the paramedic’s and led him around the front yard to see the pruned trees, new flower beds and sculptured paths. “She expressed her gratitude to the fire department, said she had been really scared and was glad to see us pull up,” Sawaya says. “She commented she never knew she had so many friends in the neighborhood, never felt so cared for in her life. For her, it was overwhelming.”
Out on the street, a jubilant crowd shared stories of the work days and the miraculous changes to the house. Mostly strangers to one another, they were from Tacoma, Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula. All were inspired to help a woman erase a nightmare experience and replace it with the testimony of good will. One of the workers, Mark Wagnar, was a friend of Bodine from the Life Center church in Tacoma and had worked with him before. “He’s my hero,” Wagnar said while watching Bodine shake hands and thank the volunteer workers. “He’s as good a person as they come.”
Andrea Jerabek’s husband, Edward, was one of the volunteers. The Safe Streets office is temporarily located in their Gig Harbor home. He found his wife’s first month on the job at Safe Streets remarkable. “I’m very proud of her. She’s taken this whole thing by storm,” he says.
Gorman suffers recurring nightmares and sometimes the television triggers frightening memories. She is afraid because the dogs have not been surrendered for destruction but remain at the Humane Society. Gorman and Beasley are actively advocating that Layla’s Law, RCW 9.91.170, be enforced with regard to this attack. According to Beasley, the law protects the safety of service dogs and their disabled owners. Conviction of breaking Layla’s law would find the dogs’ owners responsible for the full restitution of all damages to Gorman, her dog, her home, and her personal property.
As for Jerabek’s first experience with Safe Streets, an organization she had never heard of until they hired her, she says this “project” was all about on-the-job training. “I don’t want to take a whole lot of credit. I’ve just been falling into things,” she says. “This is like a separate event. This is about Sue… to come home, to come to a safe home.”
The first month was a “whirlwind” for Jerabek but she says the real job with
Safe Streets hasn’t even begun. “This was not an isolated incident about loose dogs and vicious dogs,” she says. “I need to get people to the table — the sheriff, law enforcement and community leaders — and ask what we can do for the long haul. Having a dog running loose is not acceptable, no matter how nice the dog.”
The long haul will require community awareness and community commitment. “That’s education and education is slow,” Jerabek says.