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Maggie’s angels

Volunteers chip in to make a child home more livable

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published Nov. 25, 2007, 11:08 a.m.)

Terry Mayer/The Week
Maggie Barton, with her mom, Beth, in her redone bedroom.


Since the day she was born, Jim and Beth Barton have been doing everything they could to care for their daughter Maggie.

She was seven weeks premature and suffered from seizures, cerebral palsy, microcephaly and cortical vision impairment.

Aside from the numerous medical obstacles that have punctuated their lives for the past eight years, everyday care for Maggie as a baby and young child was doable.

They could carry her up the stairs to the home’s only bedrooms and bathroom in their Delavan Township home.

But as she grew, these obstacles became too large to overcome.

“I could still do it for now, but other caregivers couldn’t do it anymore,” Beth said.

So a year ago friends and family, spearheaded by Beth’s father, Noel Daly, organized a benefit to raise funds for the changes needed to keep caring for her at home with her parents and brother Jack, 6.

While the benefit was a huge success, it didn’t fill the very large needs.

“I got a knock on the door one day and it was Dick Hummel,” Beth began. “He saw the story in the paper (The Week, Nov. 12, 2006) and came with a donation from the Lions Club.

“Then he asked if I knew about the Lakeland Builders Association Help Committee, and of course, I didn’t.”

It didn’t take her long to find out about it, however.

“What an amazing group of people,” she says. “I just can’t get over how genuinely happy they were to help us and how generous they are.

“They just wanted to make our lives easier.”

The Lakeland Builders Association Help Committee is a group of area builders who donate their time, equipment and materials to change the homes of people in our area who are up against challenges like the Bartons’.

They began work last May and just completed the projects a few weeks ago. The changes touch every corner of the home, inside and out.

The uneven floor surfaces are now all one flat hardwood floor, the maze that used to be the kitchen and dining room is one big open space and the gravel driveway is paved—all making maneuvering Maggie’s wheelchair a ton easier; and Maggie now has a bedroom and adjoining bathroom on the first level of the home in what was the laundry room.

The Bartons themselves have also put many hours into the remodeling with their own plumbing, electrical and painting skills with many more to go.

“There’s still a lot of finishing work to do, but it’ll be our winter project,” Beth said.

As a typical 8-year-old, Maggie’s favorite part by far is her new bedroom. Her eyes light up when she enters her purple walls filled with personal touches.

At first it looks like any child’s bedroom, but all of the parts that make it such a specialized space are just under the surface.

The floors, doors, closet, bed, electronics and adjoining bathroom are nothing less than a miracle for her and her parents.

“We can’t believe all they’ve done,” Beth said. “Everything will—and already is—make such a huge difference.”

Without fanfare or self-promotion, nearly two dozen member companies and far more individual LBA members spent the spring, summer and autumn modifying the Barton home.

Their gratitude is impossible to express, but Beth wants to give thanks where it is due, she said.

“These people would rather go under the radar. It’s obvious that’s not what they do it for. But I want people to know what they’re doing and how much it means to families.”

The LBA Help Committee also recently remodeled the Allens Grove home of Specialist Raymond Hubbard, his wife Sarah and sons Brady and Riley. Hubbard was severely injured and lost his left leg below the knee in Iraq on July 4, 2006.

Kent and Jean Kruzan were especially involved in launching the Barton family LBA project. Kent is president of the LBA.

“If it weren’t for them, none of this would have happened,” said Beth. “Everyone was happy to help—more than happy—and Kent and Jean were the ones who got it going.

“The lengths they’ve gone for us are amazing.”

Meanwhile, Maggie thrives in her new environment. Her Tempur-Pedic bed moves to make her transfers safer and easier, plus it massages to keep her comfortable. A flat-screen television is mounted on the wall and will soon be her computer too, which she’ll be able to activate with specialized hand controls. And her bathroom has a specially built whirlpool that will do wonders for the rigidity her muscles suffer due to cerebral palsy.

Before getting to this point, the Bartons did their homework and researched the government agencies that assist families with these types of needs. But they quickly learned that there are far too few, and those that do exist have very limited funds.

“We’ve talked to councils, representatives and legislators and they’re very sympathetic, there just aren’t any funds there,” Beth said. “We learned that kids don’t make it to the top of those lists until they’re 12 or 13, and we just couldn’t wait that long.”

And thanks to the very giving members of the LBA and those who attended her benefit, they didn’t have to.

“We’ve had quite a year with lots of ups and downs,” Beth says. “The benefit was a great up; then Maggie had to have surgery on her hip, that was a big downer; then back up with the LBA Help Committee—it’s really been an amazing year.”

To spend time with Maggie, who attends the School for the Visually Impaired in Janesville, the woes of her daily challenges are not reflected in her smiling face and enthusiastic attitude.

Her belly laughs and twinkling eyes are those of any sweet little girl who’s just happy to be here.

“Maggie was sent to us to teach us about the power of unconditional love. We want to make the best of her life and take it from there.”

On a special note, the Barton family would like to thank “Ellie” for all of the cards and well wishes she’s sent to Maggie over the past year.

“She never lets us down,” Beth said. “Her cards always come in the mail and we want to tell her how important she’s become to us.”

For Maggie’s whole story, visit www.caringbridge.com, then enter the password: maggiebarton. For more information about the LBA, visit www.lakelandba.com.

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