This renovation was 'meant to be'

  • From left, Jeff and Stacy Fulkerson with son James, and Donna and Mike Dew of Oak Tree Construction in the Fulkersons' newly remodeled bathroom.

      From left, Jeff and Stacy Fulkerson with son James, and Donna and Mike Dew of Oak Tree Construction in the Fulkersons' newly remodeled bathroom. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • The Fulkersons' remodeled bathroom includes a space-saving toilet and a roll-in/walk-in shower.

      The Fulkersons' remodeled bathroom includes a space-saving toilet and a roll-in/walk-in shower. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Remodeled bathroom for Stacy and Jeff Fulkerson and their son James.

      Remodeled bathroom for Stacy and Jeff Fulkerson and their son James. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted9/13/2015 1:00 AM

Stacy and Jeff Fulkerson of Schaumburg and their 6-year-old son, James, have a new, state-of-the-art bathroom, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

The family lives in an L-shaped ranch, similar to many you see in Schaumburg, but they were finding that it wasn't particularly conducive to raising their son, who was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy after suffering a stroke in utero.


"James cannot cough, blink or swallow and, while I never say 'never,' he probably won't ever be able to take care of himself in the most basic ways," explained Stacy.

As James grew and became heavier, daily life was becoming more and more difficult for Stacy.

"He weighs 42 or 43 pounds and is about 45 inches long and he is very awkward to carry," she said. So bathing him in a tub was becoming more and more difficult.

The Fulkersons had begun looking at their home and trying to figure out what they could do to make it more accessible and livable for their son. They had seen similar homes where the original garage had been converted to a family room and a new garage constructed. So they began thinking about converting their garage into a handicapped-accessible bathroom and therapy room for James. But that was as far as they gotten when fate stepped in.

Donna Dew of Oak Tree Construction Services in Schaumburg needed to order a handbag for her daughter-in-law online and was having trouble with the website.

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So, she contacted the company by phone, which referred her to their local representative, Stacy Fulkerson. Fulkerson, a stay-at-home mom who sells the handbags online to make extra money, assisted Dew with her purchase and as they talked, Fulkerson realized that she was speaking with someone in her own neighborhood who was a remodeling contractor.

Dew and her husband own their own remodeling company and are active members of the Greater Chicagoland chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARIGC).

Fulkerson asked Dew to stop by and give them a quote on the work they had been contemplating. So they went to the home where they talked to both Stacy and Jeff, a computer network specialist at Elmhurst College.

The Dews quickly realized that the work the Fulkersons had been considering was well beyond their budget. The home did not have a basement, so running the necessary plumbing would be very expensive, due to the home's concrete slab.


"Mike suggested that they consider renovating and enlarging the existing hall bathroom instead. We both knew that that would also be pretty expensive, so we mentioned that our remodeling association occasionally got together to do projects for families that needed help and we offered to nominate them for a "NARIGC to the Rescue" project. But we told them not to get their hopes up because it would take board approval."

In March, the Dews brought the Fulkersons' bathroom project needs to the attention of the 22-member Greater Chicagoland NARI board, which unanimously voted in favor of the project last March. They began the work in mid-June.

"By the time I walked out of that meeting, I had seven or eight of the things I needed already volunteered," Donna Dew recalled. "The board was great."

Mike Dew served as the project's general contractor and Donna Dew solicited all of the labor, materials and cash that the project demanded. In all, 23 different companies and individuals participated in the project, which would have cost between $30,000 and $35,000 if done without all of the donations of time and materials, Donna said.

"NARIGC to the Rescue is a local program that has evolved over the past seven or eight years," explained Mimi Altman, executive director of NARI Chicago, based in Des Plaines. "We used to work with various charitable organizations, but have decided to find deserving families ourselves and do it on our own."

Over the past eight years the organization has completed five projects all over the Chicago area.

"We like to help people who have some sort of issue in their home life which we can help them with. We hope that by doing a remodeling project, we can make one part of their lives better. It is amazing what improving one bathroom or repairing a kitchen can do to reduce the stress upon a family," Altman said.

"Our members have the skill sets to help and to respond to needs and they generally want to give back to the community, so this is how we choose to do it. But we cannot do it too often because we would burn out our members," she said.

The Fulkerson bath project converted the small hall bath to a bath space that can accommodate James' growing needs. Everything was done to make the space accessible to his wheelchair. During a span of six weeks, the wall was moved out by a foot, gaining space from a main hall and linen closet. The linen closet was relocated to a blank space in the foyer. A vanity that spanned the entire wall was removed and replaced with a new sink and a tall cabinet for storage.

The bathroom door was removed and a wider entry was created with pocket door access. A space-saving toilet was installed. The tank is now located behind the wall and the toilet hangs from the wall. The old bathtub was replaced with a new roll-in/walk-in shower that features a slight floor slant so the water drains into a new drain that runs along the back wall. Finally, the entire floor is heated with a new radiant heat system.

"We were honestly floored by the number of people who wanted to give their hearts and time to us. Jeff says that he will be forever grateful for that one bag that Donna Dew wanted to buy because it led NARIGC to us," Fulkerson said.

"I get teary every time I think about it. It was definitely a 'meant to be' scenario and I am so happy that we were able to do this for them," Donna Dew said.

NARIGC celebrated the successful completion of the project at its Sept. 8 meeting in Elk Grove Village. The Fulkersons presented "before and after" photos of their bathroom.

"These celebrations are always so emotional that it is difficult to conduct business afterward," Altman admitted.

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