“This is a feel-good story,” says Janet Windman.
A volunteer for a variety of causes — including Healing Reins, the Humane Society and Volunteers in Medicine — Windman, of Bend, is like many altruists: She gives gladly and doesn’t ask for anything in return for her efforts, least of all recognition.
Stroke survivor Geoff Babb, 51, certainly has reason to feel good. For about a week, he’s been able to shower in the master bathroom of his southeast Bend home, thanks to a group of volunteers, led by Windman, who collectively designed, donated materials and ultimately built a new shower for Geoff.
The Babbs estimate that, had they paid for the materials and labor for the shower, which takes up a large portion of the bathroom, it would have cost them somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.
Manuel Baptista, owner of Baptista Tile in Bend, agrees that about $7,500 is a good guess. Baptista donated all of the tile and some other materials, including grout, to the group effort.
Windman, husband Marty and about 11 volunteers took care of everything and arranged to complete the job while the Babbs and their twin, 16-year-old sons, Cory and Emory, were away on a short trip.
“They designed it to finish when we were gone so it wouldn’t be an inconvenience,” says Yvonne Babb, a teacher at the Waldorf School of Bend. “Everything that they did, it wasn’t about them. They said, ‘Well, what do you really need for this bathroom?’
“It wasn’t about, ‘I’ve got three hours to give you. This is what you can do.’ … It was this incredible attitude that they both had from the very beginning.”
Illness and personal records
On a Thursday in November 2005, Geoff Babb, a fire ecologist with the Bureau of Land Management, experienced flu-like symptoms and nausea. He assumed he’d come down with something in Louisiana, where he’d just spent a month with the Central Oregon Incident Management Team.
When he began to slur his speech, it was time to go to the hospital. By the next day, he was on a respirator and was soon diagnosed with a brain-stem stroke.
Brain-stem strokes can affect many body processes, including breathing, balance, vision and heart function. They can cause paralysis in all four limbs and are frequently a cause of death, according to “Learning to Fly,” a short, very moving account Geoff put together about his first two years living after the stroke.
Although he was not technically paralyzed when he returned home from the hospital in January 2006, he did have a very limited range of motion and limited use of all four limbs, he says.
He prefers not to refer to his ongoing sessions with therapists and trainers as “rehab.”
“Obviously, compared to an able-bodied person I would be considered ‘limited’ in my abilities,” says Geoff, who continues to use a wheelchair but can also move around using a walker. “I focus myself as an athlete working out to make the physical improvements I need to continue to be more independent and to enjoy life.
“Because of the great help and motivation I get from my trainers, coaches and therapists, I can see improvements every day; some are subtle, others more obvious. My motto is ‘A PR (personal record) every day.’”
In the spring of 2007, he began riding horses at Healing Reins Therapeutic Riding Center. In November of last year, he met volunteer Janet Windman.
As she walked at his side, they got into a conversation about the remodel of the Babb family home, which they undertook in January 2008 after taking out a large loan to make the house more accessible for Geoff.
“We hadn’t quite completed it. We ran out of money and just had to pause on some stuff,” he recalls. “She later asked me what was left. I said the bathroom was the big thing, because we really wanted to make that more accessible, for me to be able to stand and take some showers.”
With their old shower, Yvonne had to help him up and over the “curb” — the bottom edge you step over when you get in the shower — in order for him to shower.
At the time, says Windman, Geoff also mentioned that they’d tried unsuccessfully to get on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” an ABC show about remodeling homes for deserving families.
“I said, ‘My husband does a lot of work with Habitat for Humanity,’” Windman said of her husband, Marty, who volunteers there three days a week. “‘Maybe we could just come over and do a few things for you.’
“And (Geoff) said, ‘That would be wonderful.’ We went over, saw that he needed a new bathroom, and that’s where it all started.”
‘How we want to live our life’
About 15 years ago, Janet and Marty Windman quit their jobs, rented out their San Diego home and joined the Peace Corps, a 2½-year commitment.
“We just jumped ship and went to Chile in the Peace Corps,” says Janet. They lived in Concepcin, about eight hours south of Santiago. Marty taught classes in business and entrepreneurship at a small university; Janet worked for an agency that gave loans to small, struggling businesses.
“And what we found is you get so much more back when you give,” she says. “And for us, that’s become kind of how we want to live our life.”
Helping others is also important to tile-donor Baptista. This is not the first such project to which he’s donated materials.
Interestingly, more and more able-bodied people are “starting to realize they’d like to have a curbless shower, a larger door, larger opening.” They’re likely planning for the future, he says.
Another company, Denfeld Paints, donated paint to spruce up the bathroom. In order to get the job done, the resourceful Windman reached out to many contacts, including Jim Olson of Jim Olson Plumbing, whose wife Windman used to hike with.
“We just redid the plumbing, the valve, the drain and stuff, and made it handicapped-accessible,” Olson says. “It was just a couple of hours’ worth of work. I feel funny even getting any publicity about it. It just wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Volunteers Karen Pagen and Craig Sellers tiled the walls of the shower.
Pagen is a physical therapist and teacher whose father taught her how to tile. She laughs when asked how much time she put into it, estimating it took her about seven full days working from 9 to 5.
“I was supposed to tile the whole thing, but thank God some other people stepped in,” she says. “Everybody just worked really well and put this thing together for them, which I thought was just spectacular.”
She credits Windman for the success of this grass-roots effort: “She made everybody come on board,” Pagen says. “She’s incredible. She’s nonstop.”
Windman, for her part, credits Pagen with having the idea to remove the tub and build the new shower in that area. Earlier, the Babbs had considered redoing the shower in a hallway bathroom.
In the master bathroom, Yvonne shows the problematic curb. “We (had) to help him to get into the shower,” she says. “His dream is to have a shower every night like the rest of us do.”
Now he can. Compared to what they had before, the new shower makes “it like this new age, vogue bathroom,” she says.
Chris Nelson of Nelson Tile and Stone donated two employees for a full day and three for another half-day, working to get the floor sloping properly so that the shower would drain properly without soaking the entire bathroom.
A pattern of colored glass circles the drain.
“We just threw that in, gave it a little custom touch,” Nelson says. “Make it look nice. … Any real job we get, we try to do the best we can at it. If we’re volunteering, or it’s a cheap bid, or however we do it, we’ve got to do it the best we can.”
The lesson here is that people and companies who volunteer may have many reasons for doing so, but getting showered with attention is not one of them. None of the businesses that contributed to the project did so for publicity reasons, says Windman.
What made her want to help Geoff, back when they met at Healing Reins?
“He had such a strength about him, and such a determination to live his life to the fullest. He was trying so hard when he was on that horse and just pushed himself so hard that it was just inspiring. He truly was inspiring,” she says. “He’s just such a good guy.”
Two weeks ago, the Babbs returned from their trip and saw what Windman and her volunteers accomplished in their absence.
When a grateful Geoff called Windman and reported that son Emory called the results “sick and legit,” she was incredulous.
“Sick?!” she replied.
“No, that’s good,” Geoff said, explaining his son’s slang to her. “It’s a very good thing.”
A very feel-good thing.
In a follow-up e-mail to The Bulletin, Geoff wrote: “In the week that I have used the shower, I have already become a bit more independent, increased the range of motion in my left arm because I’m now able to reach higher with the new grab-bar, and it is much less wear and tear on the people helping me. This is all because of some very caring and generous people.
“There are a lot of people who have something that they want to give,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be a lot of money or material things. It’s become real obvious that people want to give something of themselves. Whether it’s just a little bit of time or something else, it’s made a huge impact on our lives to be able to receive things from people.
“It’s certainly going to influence what we do from here on out. I think that we’ve always been giving people ourselves, but certainly, to be on the receiving end, sure is going to influence our giving and providing.”
Adds Yvonne, “They’ve been our teachers and models for our sons, and us as well.”
Windman says the project shows how generous people want to be if they’re given the opportunity.
“It’s incredible,” Windman says. “It has really made everybody feel really good.”