Small Town Big Heart–a Veteran Stays Home (with AT)

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Eugene Litchfield served overseas during World War II and the Korean War. Recently, the town of Orange Massachusetts pulled out all the stops to keep him in his home (including his local reuse program!)

Two men in a backyard, one seated in a rollator, the other embracing him, are next to an accessible raised garden bed with an American flag planted.
Eugene Litchfield and Paul Anderson

Last summer, Eugene Litchfield showed up at the Orange, Massachusetts police station looking for help. Litchfield is 93 years old and lives alone in the house where he raised his boys, where his wife passed away, where he loves to garden, and where he’d imagined he, too, would live out the rest of his days. But he’d come into the station resolved. Near tears, he explained to the station’s administrative assistant, Brenda Anderson, that he needed to move into senior housing.

“He said he needs to use a walker now and his doorways aren’t wide enough, so anytime he tries to go without it, he tends to fall down,” Anderson explained to local television news reporters. He’d lived in his house for 65 years, and when she saw how distraught Litchfield was, she shared his story with her husband who owns a local business and who is, like Gene, a Navy veteran.

Paul Anderson said, “‘Nope, Gene’s not going anywhere. He’s going to stay right here. We’ll rebuild his house,'” [he told reporters with The Greenfield Recorder]. “‘And that’s how it came about. And I just started making calls and contacted everyone and said, This is what we’re trying to do. You want to play?’”

It’s a story that speaks to the power of a committed community to do right by a longtime resident who’d served his country. It’s also a crowdsourcing story–and for our AT3 Center purposes–it’s a story of the role reuse programs play to keep older adults and persons with disabilities safe at home.

The Andersons’s effort snowballed in the best of ways.

Volunteers build a wheelchair accessible ramp for a house.
Volunteers build ramps for Eugene Litchfield’s home

Local businesses provided free materials or materials at cost: lumber, portable toilet, a dumpster, raised garden beds (built under a tent in the pouring rain!), access ramps, and even landscaping. Some volunteers were veterans themselves, others just community members who wanted to contribute. One woman stopped by to clean and came back with handmade curtains. In the end, Gene Litchfield had an accessible home with a completely rebuilt bathroom, widened doors, and raised garden beds. All of it was accomplished by early August.

A man seated in a rollator examines brand new raised garden beds while another man smiles on.

REquipment is the durable medical equipment reuse program that serves Massachusetts and partners with the state’s AT Act Program, MassMATCH. Dan Perkins is the REquipment donations coordinator and an Orange, Massachusetts resident. When he learned what #SmallTownBigHeart was up to, Dan made sure Gene Litchfield would no longer struggle with a rollator.

REquipment donated Gene Litchfield a Permobil power wheelchair with new batteries in excellent condition. Gene can now ride out his front and back doors, cross his lawn, and garden at his accessible garden beds.

Two men with a power wheelchair in a driveway next to a ramp under construction.
Jim Smith and Dan Perkins of REquipment deliver Eugene Litchfield a power wheelchair.

“’This thing’ll stop on a dime and give you 9 cents’ change,’ Litchfield said while taking the wheelchair for a spin. ‘It’s quite a unit, no two ways about it,’” he told The Greenfield Reporter.

From among the many posts Paul Anderson made about this effort on his Trail Head Outfitters and General Store Facebook page:

“This project was an amazing community effort from start to finish and our Veteran is so very grateful. [….] The generosity of everyone with their time, money & kind words shows why the North Quabbin Community is a great place to live. We asked for help and you all responded in a big way. Shakespeare wrote ‘How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.’ Thanks for making our Veteran’s world less weary. #smalltownbigheart”

Know someone in need of gently-used durable medical equipment? Have equipment you are no longer using? Find your State or Territory Reuse Program.