Laurel volunteers breaking ground on a better life

Laverne Debnam considers herself a "great giver," taking care of others in her personal and professional life. When it comes to receiving, however, it's more of a challenge. She simply asks, "OK, God, work with me."

That's why Debnam said she was overwhelmed by the massive outpouring of support from the Laurel community in renovating and expanding the house she and her son, Brent, 23, live in.

"To receive this, on such a massive level, it's amazing," she said. "Our philosophy has always been to give to those who need it, and when it comes back on this scale, oh my God, you realize: there are still massive amounts of good people out there. Brent and I are seeing the best of the best."

The Debnam house on Laurel Avenue was a flurry of activity Tuesday, April 16, as about 40 community members officially broke ground on the work that will ultimately make it much easier for Laverne and Brent to live in their home.

Brent Debnam has cerebral palsy and osteoporosis; he uses a wheelchair and has difficulty getting around his own house. He can't get into the kitchen or bathroom — so there's a toilet right in his tiny bedroom, and he receives sponge baths or goes to a hotel to take a shower. But that's all about to change.

Thanks to a community-wide effort based out of Bethany Community Church in West Laurel, about $30,000 has been raised in the past year for renovations. Donations have been coming in other forms, too — like a neighbor who's also a roofer, who offered up his services free of charge.

"It's time, talent, treasure," said Ruth Walls, a family friend and Bethany parishioner who help spearhead the donation drive. "It's a community-wide effort of people stepping forward to help out, coming out of the woodwork when they realized there was this need right in our neighborhood."

When renovations are complete this summer, Debnam said, the kitchen will have nearly doubled in size and, like Brent's bathroom, will be completely wheelchair accessible. There will be room for other equipment, too, like a ceiling lift to help Brent out of his wheelchair into bed.

"He takes all of the difficulties in stride, but as a mother, you want these things for him," Debnam said. "You want him to be 23, to do the things other people take for granted. You want to make him feel as normal as any young adult."

Debnam said she and her son are kindred spirits, and described Brent — a graduate of Montgomery Community College who was accepted to Bowie State University — as a mellow, good-humored music lover. His love of music helped Brent become friends with Walls and her family. Ruth Walls' husband, Mike Walls, plays in a band, andBrent's laid back sense of humor was what inadvertently alerted the Walls to his living situation a year ago.

"We were out listening to my dad's band, and we took him back home and he said, 'I'm going home and I'm going to sleep in my bed'; he meant his wheelchair," said Wrenn Walls, Ruth and Mike Walls' daughter. "His mother had strained her back from trying to get him in and out of his chair."

An immediate solution was found that night, when the Walls asked some of their friends to go to the Debnam house to help out. But it wasn't a long-term solution.

"I knew there were resources," Wrenn Walls said. "He didn't have to be stuck. He's a member of the community; we should be reaching out."

The Walls invited the Debnams to their church, Bethany Community — a church, Debnam said, that is exactly what a church should be: a community.

That community began to rally around the Debnams, as Wrenn Walls realized "something needed to be done."

"We said, 'We're not going to have this,'" Ruth Walls said. "Laurel is a caring town, and people want to help out once they know there's a need."

For Debnam, the work on the house and the support of the community are like puzzle pieces coming together in the lives of her and her son.

"Everyone's path is different," she said. "Everyone's path looks different and is supposed to be different. Your path might be straight, but ours might have some turns to it. But our destinations are the same — you just have to see how the puzzle pieces fit together. The point of being here is to show each other our paths, and help one another."

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