Raising children is time consuming even under the best of circumstances. There are activities to attend, sports to play, and homework to oversee. Add in another factor, namely four children with varying levels of disability, and time is definitely not one's own.
That's the situation that has faced Mark and Joan Evans of Elk Grove Village ever since their triplets - Grant, Bradley and Meredith - were born 13 weeks preterm in 1993.
After a fourth child, Brett, came along in 1999, that situation intensified when the youngest Evans was diagnosed with autism. The couple's world has been a whirlwind of normal family activities, augmented by frequent trips to therapy and the never-ending paperwork that accompanies their children's medical conditions.
As with any situation where someone or something has been overextended, something has to give. That something, for the Evans, was their home. The bathrooms in particular, and most desperately the master bathroom, were in need of an upgrade.
"Our bathroom was just falling apart and we didn't know how long we could keep picking up Meredith to take her in there," Joan Evans said.
The master bath of their ranch-style home, built in 1960, contained many of the original fixtures and it was difficult to maneuver in the tight space. This was particularly true when it came time to bathe Meredith, who has the greatest physical challenges of the family due to her severe cerebral palsy. One or both of her parents had to carry Meredith into the bathroom because her motorized chair would not fit through the 1960s doorway.
In addition to not having time to remodel their home, the Evanses have faced tough financial circumstances over the past few years. Mark was laid off from his job as a loan officer and worked sporadically until this past spring when he snagged a job as an admissions adviser for American Intercontinental University Online.
Unbeknownst to the Evanses, Carol Lueth, a family friend, set in motion last summer a series of events that culminated in construction of a new master bathroom thanks to a program called NARI to the Rescue, sponsored by the Greater Chicagoland Chapter of National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
Lueth originally contacted a producer for Lou Manfredini, who has home improvement programs on WGN Radio and on WMAQ-TV. Manfredini's people directed Lueth to NARI.
The Evanses finally found out about the potential bathroom remodel when Tony Tripp, a member of NARI's board of directors, contacted them so he could visit the home to assess their needs. The initial visit occurred last October. Several months passed with the family hearing nothing, but Joan Evans remained confident that something good would occur.
Something good was about to happen. NARI's board of directors approved the project immediately. Mike Pudlik, NARI vice president and owner of Legacy Design and Construction Inc., St. Charles, signed on as project manager and began assembling a team of contractors and suppliers to donate time and materials to the project. In addition to seeing the Evans family's definite need for a master bath makeover, the timing was right to take it on.
"The organization also wanted to take on a larger (charitable) project and it fell into a time where we could give it our utmost attention," Pudlik said.
The Evanses finally received the long-awaited telephone call in mid-January. Tripp and Pudlik, along with Joel Kristianson, co-owner of Crimson Design and Construction Inc. in Naperville, met with the family to begin the design phase. Kristianson, who did the architectural renderings, came up with about three different designs to make the bathroom larger. In addition, a half wall that separated the living room from the kitchen was eliminated to provide better traffic flow.
Even though this was technically a charitable project, Pudlik emphasized to all involved not to treat it as such.
"Part of my initial request was that everyone treat this better than they would for a regular client," Pudlik said.
That's exactly what Kristianson did.
"I even went back by myself after the meeting with Tony (Tripp) and Mike (Pudlik) to make sure they got what they wanted before I presented them with the options," Kristianson said. "We want to make sure that the client is on board and you also want to make sure that it fits their needs."
The design the Evanses chose was the one Kristianson felt would work best. It called for bumping out the bathroom wall 20 inches into the kitchen dinette area, and angling off a wall leading from the bedroom hallway, once again to improve accessibility and flow. The doorway from the kitchen was also widened by about one foot to accommodate Meredith's power chair.
As with any project, drawbacks are inherent. In this case, the enlarged master bath took away some of the kitchen space. Kristianson had considered trying to relocate the door from the master bedroom to produce even more space, but furniture placement in the bedroom precluded that from becoming a reality. Yet, because the kitchen was so large in the first place, the 20 inches given to the master bath doesn't detract from the spaciousness of the room.
Work began on the project in mid-February and took about six weeks to complete.
"Mike did a great job of keeping it on schedule," Kristianson said. "That was my only concern - with a volunteer project you wonder whether everyone will keep working on it, but he really moved it along."
While Crimson was responsible for the preliminary design, drawings and building permit for the project, Legacy oversaw coordination of every contractor, handled changes to the original plan, and was responsible for contacting Elk Grove Village officials for inspections.
Other companies involved in the project included D/R Services Inc., Glenview, which signed on as general contractor and performed all carpentry work; M.A. Newman, Wheeling, which did the plumbing; Metro Group Inc. of Chicago, for heating and air conditioning; and Manion Decorating of Elmhurst, for painting. Kohler donated all the bathroom fixtures through Crawford Supply Co. in Itasca.
The result was a state-of-the-art accessible bathroom with a zero threshold shower featuring two different types of shower heads, grab bars in crucial places, a raised toilet with handicapped railings, a wash basin with sensor wash basin, and a warming element in the ceiling.
"You feel like you're in a spa," Joan Evans said.
All the workers involved in the project heeded Pudlik's request to treat the project with utmost care. Many of the workers didn't even realize the installation was a charitable work until Evans told them. What's more is they almost became family.
"I cried when they all left," she said. "I didn't want them finishing."
Many of those involved went above and beyond what they were required to do. Not only did Metro Group run the duct work into the new master bath, the company tweaked a number of other heating and air conditioning elements, such as insulating and cleaning the duct work, and making a bigger air return in the house's family room, which made overall air flow more efficient. When Bob Manion of Manion Decorating heard the Evanses story, he had his staff paint their family room, and is working on an additional charitable project to repaint the walls in the entire home.
Joan Evans beams when speaking of the new master bathroom. Although it was originally intended primarily for Meredith, the entire family has benefited from the makeover. Bradley, who wears leg braces and has mild hemiplegia, has had an easier time taking care of his own needs because he doesn't need to lift his leg over the side of a bathtub. Yet the first one to use the new facilities was 11-year-old Brett.
"He never used to take showers, only baths," Evans said. "He hasn't taken a bath since the bathroom was finished."
The boon has been biggest, though, for Meredith, who giggles and laughs her way now through bathing time, regularly taking the hand-held sprayer to douse herself with water and attempting to wash her own hair.
"I know that they want to be independent," Evans said. "As a parent, you know in your heart that it won't really happen, but this helps them."
Not quite everything is in place yet. For the moment, the family has a standard bath chair in the shower, but has a reclining one on order to make it even easier to take care of Meredith. Evans said the family needs to get a number of other things for the bathroom, but these are items that will be funded by medical insurance.
"There are other families who are more in need than we are," she said. "We just feel blessed for having this all done. My kids deserve this."