Slow-moving paving project creates obstacles for young girl

Habitat for Humanity home is hard for girl to access
2012-10-09T00:00:00Z Slow-moving paving project creates obstacles for young girlBy EVE BYRON Independent Record Helena Independent Record
October 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Gwen Schaff, 10, moves slowly yet deliberately behind her walker on the sidewalk in front of her house until she reaches the 8-foot-long plywood bridge that separates the cement path from the street.

She gets the walker over the half-inch lip of the plywood, but clearly struggles as she pushes up the slight incline before the ramp starts downward. She slips backward and gets scared until her dad, Wayne Schaff, jumps in to steady her. Tearfully, Gwen gives up, her cerebral palsy edging out her ability to walk to her parents’ vehicle or back home without someone else’s help.

Wayne ruefully laughs, noting that the new ramp replaces the boards that had provided a makeshift bridge for the past five months.

“OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) came out and said ‘That’s just not going to work,’” he recalled.

The street in front of their house — which is one of four Habitat for Humanity homes here — was torn up five months ago in anticipation of a parking lot being created and the street being repaved. But the work has been slow for a variety of reasons so it’s still just a big dirt hole, with water lines sticking up in the middle of it and curbs on either side.

“It’s a lake when it rains,” Schaff added.

Every day that Gwen leaves for Smith Elementary, her cheerleading club or on some errand with her family, her father or mother have to carry her to the car, which at times can be up to a block away. With winter on the horizon, Wayne Schaff is nervous they’ll still be carrying Gwen to the car and accidentally slip on snow or ice.

“We have been patient,” he said on Monday. “We are very grateful for our home and everything Habitat for Humanity has done, but this is becoming such a hindrance trying to get back and forth.

“We have called and pleaded with them, and they went so far as to ask our neighbors to park far away and said they would try to get us a dedicated spot on the street. That hasn’t happened either. It shouldn’t be this complicated.”

He adds that access is even worse for his neighbor, who has a back problem. Schaff notes that it was only 10 days ago that a fence was installed to keep people from accidentally falling into the parking lot pit; that work was done after he called to complain about safety concerns.

Melony Bruhn, executive director for Habitat for Humanity in Helena, understands his frustration and said they’re trying to help, but these projects take time. They also were hurrying to get the fourth Habitat for Humanity home finished to get the family inside, and ended up putting that work before the paving.

“Although money is tight these days, we do have the money set aside for paving that project,” Bruhn said. “Part of the problem is it’s not just private land owned by Habitat; we were required by the city to engineer, excavate and pave the remaining balance of Oregon Street, which is a city street. We also had to complete the infrastructure.

“So we’ve had to bring in heavy-duty power, had to deal with drainage issues and stormwater and need to put in a retention pond, then ultimately pave that.”

But she’s hopeful that the project may be complete in 30 days. First, though, they have to insulate the water lines, backfill the parking lot and roll it, and then excavate it to the appropriate grade prior to paving.

“We’re doing the best that we can with a volunteer crew and part-time construction supervisor,” Bruhn said, adding that they’re also having problems renting heavy equipment because other construction companies are trying to wrap up their projects, too. “If anyone would like to come with a backhoe and an operator, we’d gladly accept their help.”

As the Schaff family stood outside their home Monday, Mark Leland drove up with another man to look at the property. Leland was only recently hired to complete this project; he’s not sure why it’s taken so long to get the job done but he’s ready to get to work.

“We are doing everything we can to get this done as soon as possible,” Leland said. “I think we have the information to proceed.”

He added that he’s going to fix the ramp so that it no longer creates a barrier for Gwen.

“I can make some alterations to the ramp so it’s more accessible,” he said.

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076, or

Copyright 2016 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. skooter
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    skooter - October 10, 2012 1:41 pm
    my god you should be ashamed of yourself. A little girl with CP is the problem...and look at her... she probably works harder and longer at her life to do the simplest things in her life (like walking) than you do any day.

    Your comments are disgusting, ignorant but sadly soooooo typical.
  2. FlamingLiberal1
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    FlamingLiberal1 - October 09, 2012 3:31 pm
    Steeline, do you really want to go there? Putting down a family with a disabled child? Shame on you! It's easy enough to say someone should get a job, get the work done, etc. when you don't know the barriers they face. Just as it's easy to assume that someone parked with a handicapped placard doesn't really deserve it. But just because it isn't obvious to you doesn't mean that it's a scam. And you know what people did before welfare? Many of them died. They didn't "make do;" they DIED. Is that the America you keep talking about getting back? Because I want no part of that.

    The fact is, this child has been placed at risk because of delays in the construction schedule, and this is a problem that needs to be fixed before the snow flies.
  3. MTRaised
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    MTRaised - October 09, 2012 3:13 pm
    While I do understand the "victims" in our society that are on welfare and absolutely shouldn't be, this article has nothing to do with that. That little girl is has cerebral palsy. And I don't imagine the family is sitting at home giggling about how they took Habitat for Humanity for fools when they really didn't need that home.
  4. MTRaised
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    MTRaised - October 09, 2012 2:09 pm
    It seems to me that a family in need of a home from Habitat for Humanity probably doesn't have the money to pave a walkway themselves. Do you know the expenses involved in raising a child with a disability, Steeline? Do you know this family's financial situation? And if this man did have the money anything he did would have to be approved by the engineer.
  5. steeline
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    steeline - October 09, 2012 1:54 pm
    Well there are too many so called "victims" in society. I have compassion for those who work hard and fall on bad times as well as for those who just aren't able to care for themselves, But, Unfortunately there are way too many running around with "handi cap" stickers in the window that are perfectly able to take care of themselves. Before welfare people made do and got the job done. I know this first hand. So to say I have no compassion is just not right thinking. You only get out of life that that you put into it. Unless you are shamlessly habituated to the working class paying your share. We have to restore the American self reliance,individual responsibility and work ethic, no matter if you agree or not.
  6. CarrollQueer
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    CarrollQueer - October 09, 2012 1:50 pm
    Shame on you Melony Bruhn for all the excuses! And shame on the city of Helena for creating additional issues and work.
    If either of these bureaucracies had 1/10th the grit and determination of Gwen, this would have been completed months ago.
    Thank you Mr Leland for stepping up to help and the IR for daylighting this.
  7. Susie
    Report Abuse
    Susie - October 09, 2012 1:39 pm
    Thanks to Habitat for Humanity for making homes available for our community. I know that Habitiat for Humanity does great work with small amounts of money, but I also feel for the Schaff family. This article shows how important it is to make all of our community accessible so that everyone can participate and live with dignity. Thanks for highlighting important Helena issues.
  8. FlamingLiberal1
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    FlamingLiberal1 - October 09, 2012 12:11 pm
    Steeline, are you aware that most families approved for Habitat homes are in substandard housing? That is part of the selection criteria. Prior to qualifying for a Habitat home, many families are without heat or running water or may even be homeless. We don't know why this family moved in before construction was complete. Also, from what was written in the article, it appears there were delays in the completion of the work. Additionally, Habitat recipients put in "Sweat Equity" by working on their home or someone else's, so please don't assume the father has done nothing. You have no idea what he has done. I think one of the best thinkgs about America is our compassion, but you certainly aren't demonstrating any.
  9. steeline
    Report Abuse
    steeline - October 09, 2012 10:14 am
    These houses should not have been moved into until "all" cosntruction was completed. It appears the Schaff family and others could do nothing but sit a wait for more volunteers and money to finish the project. It seems logical that a man with a physically challenged child would not wait 5 months without doing something about the situation. We have to get America Right.

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