Last Thanksgiving, Michael Gomez was relying on his son, Mikey, to help him shower using a garden hose in their Pflugerville home. If the weather was nice enough, he would shower on the backyard patio.
Gomez, 53, is a double amputee whose two story-home was not accessible for him to get around in his wheelchair. The family had converted a downstairs game room into a bedroom, but the downstairs had only a half bathroom.
This Thanksgiving, when Gomez and his family, including his wife, Nora, 45, twins Mikey and Alyssa, 18, and daughters Briana, 22, and Stephanie, 26, gather, he will be able to get ready without any help from anyone else.
Through the Statesman’s Season for Caring program, the downstairs of the Gomez home was completely redone by CG&S Design-Build to be more accessible.
Season for Caring, Gomez says, "was a blessing."
He is now able to do things such as laundry and help around the house.
"I think they not only changed my life, but they changed my family’s life. They made things easier for all of us, for my kids. I don’t want my kids to have to take care of me. I want them to live their lives."
The Gomez twins have now graduated high school, and Mikey plans to go to Austin Community College next semester.
For the past 20 years, each Thanksgiving weekend Season for Caring has told the stories of about a dozen families nominated by local nonprofit agencies. Donations from individuals, civic groups and local businesses help these families and hundreds of other families served by the selected nonprofit agencies throughout the year.
Last Season for Caring, the Statesman raised $1,033,589 in monetary donations and in-kind goods and services. Since 1999, the program has given $12.7 million to local nonprofit organizations.
On Sunday, the Statesman will launch the 21st Season for Caring and ask the community once again to donate gifts of goods and services as well as money.
Today, we look back on last year’s Season for Caring families and see how the gifts you gave made a difference for the featured families.
Last year, Debra and Charles Simpson were living in a mobile home that was badly damaged by the Halloween floods of 2015. Now their home has been repaired with new floors, plumbing and electrical work.
Charles, 78, who has congestive heart failure, "is not too good," Debra, 68, says. "He spends most of his day sleeping."
The couple made it to their 50th wedding anniversary in January.
"There are no words to describe how much the Season for Caring meant to us," she says. "It was greatly appreciated by all the family. I hope to be able to donate to the Season for Caring program eventually."
Readers fell in love with Ernest Kimble, who had been living in a motel in San Marcos. Kimble, 54, now lives in an apartment in a retirement community thanks to Season for Caring donations.
This year he has been able to improve his vision with cataract surgery. "He’s more talkative and more friendly because he’s met a lot of neighbors," says Community Action Inc. of Central Texas' Kristina Delgado, One of his neighbors even gives him a ride to work. "He’s not as closed off as he used to be," she says.
Jacqueline Murorunkwere and her family from Congo were living in temporary housing when Season for Caring started last year. Season for Caring funds helped move them into an apartment that was furnished with Season for Caring donations.
Murorunkwere has been learning English, and she has been able to fully fund the cost of their apartment ahead of schedule.
Cars donated by Amplify Credit Union mean that the family of six no longer has to rely on borrowing a car. Son Eric Tuyishime, 20, is looking at applying to college and has a new job.
Mirtha Lugo’s life with her two daughters has become easier. The biggest thing she wanted was to have time with her daughters, which had not been possible because of the number of jobs she worked to able to support the family. In February, she became a U.S. citizen and got a job working for the state. She now has weekends off.
"The program helped us a lot," she says. "We feel like we have a strong life."
Lugo, 54, says her daughters, Andrea, 16, and Gieselle, 15, are doing well in school and pursuing their interests, including piano and newspaper club.
When we met Kevin Duroy, 40, and his children, Jayme, 13, and Leyton, 10, they were living in a recreational vehicle and trying to figure out what life without wife and mother Trisha was going to be like after she died from cervical cancer earlier that summer.
Duroy has been able to buy a piece of land in Buchanan Dam, and through Season for Caring donors with Austin National Association of the Remodeling Industry, plans were drawn up to build a house on the property, but in the end, it ended up being out of his price range.
They moved a mobile home onto the land after Austin NARI donors helped bring septic to the property.
Season for Caring donations helped buy living room furniture for them.
"it’s nice to be able to spread your wings and move about without having to worry about stepping on somebody," Duroy says. "The kids go to bed every night and shut their own doors, and that means a lot to them."
Being part of Season for Caring was tough for the Duroys, because, he says, "we've always been the givers. We've never been the receiver. It's hard for a guy to swallow his pride and take the help that he ultimately needs."
He’s looking forward to this Thanksgiving and Christmas, when he will host his family and Trisha’s family at the new house.
Duroy is also dating, which was weird at first, he says, "but the kids really like her."
"Everybody is doing great," he says. "I couldn’t ask for anything more."
Like the Duroys, the Seals family was also mourning the loss of a mother from cervical cancer. This month marked a year since Emily Seals died. Basil Seals, 43, and his daughters, Sabrina, 19, and Beth, 17, are doing well, Seals says. "It’s all because of the American-Statesman, Hospice Austin, Wonders and Worries, and CareBox (Program)," he says.
They wouldn’t be doing as well, he says, "if not for all the love and support."
The biggest thing that Season for Caring did for the family was pay off their medical debt and buy a new minivan for them. Their old car had been in Emily’s name, which made it difficult to keep once she died. Medical debt made it impossible for them to move out of a friend’s living room as well as buy a new car.
They now have their own apartment. Sabrina is going to school at Temple Community College, and both girls are working toward getting their driver’s licenses.
Season for Caring funds also helped with funeral expenses and to pay for a probate lawyer.
Now the family is looking forward, but first they are making plans to spread Emily’s ashes on a coral reef through Eternal Reefs this summer.
"Emily loved the ocean," he says.
Annie Colson, 82, and her son, Earl, 59, had their house transformed by Simply Sold to allow Earl, who has had a stroke, be able to wheel in and out of his bedroom and bathroom. The exterior was also redone by Austin Pro Construction and Sanders Roofing & Exteriors.
Recently Earl had another stroke and has been in a rehabilitation center getting stronger. Annie also struggled with her health and joined him.
"She gave up a little bit after (Earl’s stroke)," says niece Cheryl Reese. "She’s doing well, much much better."
The improvements to their house encouraged them to keep going, Reese says. "It brought a lot of joy to them," she says. "It gave them an opportunity to be more independent."
Diana Castro, 51, continues to work multiple jobs and struggles, but there has been some good news this year. Son Marc, 10, is in remission for leukemia. He and sister Anissa, 12, have been playing basketball. Son Noah, 21, has been able to stay in school at Gallaudet University. Daughter Alyssa, 25, helps Castro with the younger children.
"We are so appreciative that they helped us a lot," she says of the program.
Keith Desilets, 41, continues to maintain the grounds at Westwood High School. Through Season for Caring funds and donations, he received major home improvements such as new heating and air conditioning, a new garage door and a new stove. Season for Caring donations kept his dog, Gunner, fed all year.
Desilets and his caseworker are planning for Desilets to finally take a trip, which was on his wish list.
"I was going to the Bahamas, and now I'm trying to go to Hawaii or Jamaica," he says. They are working on getting a passport for him first.
The biggest gift Season for Caring gave Desilets, who was born with cerebral palsy, was helping the Westwood High School community really see him.
His caseworker says that parents and teachers have continued to help him and have become more patient with him.
About Season for Caring, he says, "That was great; I like that."
The Haroun family, who moved here from Iraq, made big advances this year. Mom Bushra, 47, was able to get her certified nursing assistant certification, which has allowed her to work in a nursing home to support the family. Father Idris Haroun, 66, is not able to work because of an old injury to his legs.
They were able to get a car. "She was overjoyed and actually cried when she saw the car," says Lubna Zeida, refugee program director at Interfaith Action of Central Texas.
The four kids are doing well in school, and Hajar, 15, has joined the cheer squad.
"They helped us a lot with the whole family," Bushra Haroun says. "It was like a big surprise for the Season for Caring."
Jennifer Tate, 48, and her son, Brennan, 8, spent this year living in a home paid for through Season for Caring funds. It was a big change from the recreational vehicle they had been living in.
Brennan, who has autoimmune illnesses, has been hospitalized frequently recently and had to change medication, which made it difficult for Tate to find after-school care for him. This has made working full time difficult for Tate.
"We're scared to death," she says. "We had everything under control; all it takes one thing to knock all the dominoes down, and they are going."
Even though she is struggling right now, Tate says, "we would be homeless right now if it wasn’t for you all. We can’t begin to explain to you how much this experience has meant to us.
"I can't explain with words how much it has helped," she says.