By Rewon Shimray | Reporter
Homeowner and brain tumor survivor Florentina Gaston was selected to have her home repaired by NeighborWorks Waco, a nonprofit organization with a mission “to strengthen communities through home ownership and quality housing,” according to chief financial officer Karen Saucedo. Saucedo said the home was chosen out of 20 nominations “as one that could be done in a day that was in very desperate need.”
Gaston has lived in her home since Oct. 1, 2000, where she raised her three daughters who now have their own families. The repairs done by volunteers were the first major exterior repairs she has seen on her home. When she was recently given a notice to repair the paint by the city of Waco, Gaston said she knew she would not be able to complete all of the home repairs in time. Hiring someone to do the work was challenging too, she said, because of the medical costs she was already paying.
Gaston has had three open-skull brain tumor removal surgeries since 2015. The most recent was on Jan. 4 and required six weeks of radiation. She said she was excited and thankful to God to have made it to 50 years old.
Gaston said she struggles with seizures, low motor function in her left arm, difficulty walking and some short-term memory loss; she has 13 to 14 medications she is required to take every month. At the end of March, Gaston resigned from work as the director of community programming at Economic Opportunities Advancement Corporation Of Planning Region XI, where she did utility assistance and case management for low-income families.
Gaston said she “was in shock for a very long time” that her home was nominated by NeighborWorks Waco, and even called the office suspecting it was a scam.
“I’m not used to receiving help. I’m used to giving help. I used to be the one nominating people and doing all that,” Gaston said.
Gaston said she has had to humble herself and accept the services that she formerly used to help provide to others.
“It’s tearful to have to ask for help, but I am feeling blessed,” Gaston said.
Woodway First United Methodist Church held its Great Day of Service on April 8, starting with a 30-minute service at 9:30 a.m. then dispersed to nine service project locations, including Gaston’s home.
“We are taking on this as a service project, very similar to our teenagers who go on mission trips for a week at a time every year. We’re here one day making a difference,” said Steve Patrick, Waco professional home builder and member of Woodway First United Methodist Church.
Everyone from older members of the church to early elementary school-aged children showed up to help — “professional people and novice people working” as Patrick described. Gaston walked around her home broadcasting the volunteers on Facebook live, saying, “I am so blessed.” She would also offer coffee or drinks.
“I can’t say enough that I’m thankful that this is all being done,” Gaston said.
There were about 28 volunteers scraping old paint, layering on new paint, and landscaping the yard between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Volunteers saved Gaston $5,000 to $6,000 just through their work, according to Saucedo. Saucedo said home repairs will likely take another two weeks to complete.
“It just teaches a value of being a human being helping your fellow human being. None of us have ever met the lady who lives here. The good Lord says to help your neighbor; we’re helping our neighbors,” Patrick said.
Las Vegas junior Zach Jones heard about the service event through his father, Brent Jones, who is a member of Woodway First United Methodist Church. Jones invited seven of his friends from Baylor to work alongside members of his father’s church.
“It’s just about helping someone who needs it. That’s why I’m here. I’d like someone to do that for me if I needed it, so why not?” Jones said. “The reward of helping people out is always great.”
Jones said he would be sleeping in on a typical Sunday morning, but spending the morning trimming trees and scraping paint has been “way better.”
“It’s all about just helping someone else out, and that will make your day as much as their day,” Jones said. “I think everyone should do something like this every once a while. I mean, every weekend would be fun, just coming out and helping someone who needs it. Just think about how great the world would be if we would all just go out every weekend and helped someone who needed it.”
Gaston said she hopes to eventually go back to work, hoping she can get a job “starting from the bottom and work up.” While she was a case worker, Gaston said she worked nine to 10 hours, then came home and kept in contact with clients on her website and Facebook page. Gaston said she cared about her clients and wants to continue to help others.
“I look at this as God letting this happen to me so I can learn things to be able to help other people. I don’t look at it as a punishment. I look at it as a blessing, as something that makes me more humble and learn new things,” Gaston said.
Gaston said she would not have known about the resources different organizations, such as the Baylor Scott & White McClinton Cancer and NeighborWorks Waco, provide if she had not been in need of their services herself. Gaston said she hopes she can share her knowledge of these resources to help others.
NeighborWorks Waco coordinated the materials, equipment, and volunteers needed for today’s Great Day of Service for the past month, according to Saucedo.
Saucedo said NeighborWorks Waco seeks to increase the homeownership rate, because it has been shown to be the best way for families “to grow wealth and to pull themselves out of poverty situations” and for residents to find pride in their community. Saucedo said that the organization focuses on defined regions of Waco in order to better track progress. Currently, NeighborWorks Waco is targeting their efforts on East Waco.
“With all of the activity happening in the area, it really is exciting for us to see that communities are coming together, neighborhoods are being built, new homes are going into the area,” Saucedo said.
Additional resources, such as workshops about home ownership and financial literacy, as well as a calendar of upcoming events can be found on their Facebook page. Saucedo said homeowners can request volunteer help and repair can contact the office to be considered.