Photo: Scott Hofmann of Kaneville construction and consulting company Team Hofmann discusses rebuilding Tina O’Donnell’s house with her neighbors Chrissy Graziano and Pam Sorenson.
Neighbors, friends help pave the way back home for Elburn woman
by Susan O’Neill
Elburn—Several women wearing large yellow rubber gloves sat in front of storage bins full of cleaning solution, methodically wiping down kitchen and other utensils. They joked as they cleaned.
“Those are from your mother’s wedding,” Tina O’Donnell’s long-time friend Janet Rohan said.
Tina’s neighbors Pam Sorenson and Chrissy Graziano were among the volunteers.
A handful of men and teenaged boys carrying pieces of furniture from a small truck to the front yard for cleaning were Pam’s and Chrissy’s husbands, Steve Sorenson and Tom Graziano. The two men worked alongside their sons Brad and Nick, as well as Tina’s nephew Jay Haas.
Since Jan. 1 of this year, when Tina’s husband Bob died in the fire that destroyed their home in Blackberry Creek, these friends have been her stalwart companions. The two couples have been there for Tina from the beginning, providing emotional as well as physical support.
Together with other friends and Tina’s family, they are helping Tina slowly put her life back together.
Since the fire, Tina has been staying with her mom in Geneva. Due to water, fire and smoke damage, the house was uninhabitable. Tina’s insurance denied the claim, so her sister-in-law Judi O’Donnell held a fundraiser in February, and another one in March, to raise the money needed to redo the house.
Family, friends and local business owners donated items to sell at the fundraisers. Thanks to her Facebook page, Tina also received many cash and check donations, some from people in other parts of the country.
For the first several months, Pam said it was too painful for Tina to come back to the house. Then, sometime around Easter, they got a dumpster and started the demolition.
“We had to gut the downstairs and rip out drywall,” she said. “We threw out appliances because of the smoke damage. It’s been a long process.”
Kaneville residents Kathy and Scott Hofmann read about Tina’s situation in a Feb. 17 article in the Elburn Herald. In the article, Judi said they were looking for local contractors Neighbor who could donate their time to help clean up the house and rebuild.
Kathy and Scott own a small company called Team Hofmann, through which they do carpentry, construction and consulting work. Kathy worked for a general contractor for 20 years before she and Scott started their own business, so they have a lot of housing experience and know a lot of trades people in the area.
The Hofmanns contacted Tina’s sister-in-law to ask how they could help. They met with Tina at the house in early spring, and talked about what could be done with the house.
“She needs the house different,” Kathy said.
Kathy and Scott are working with Tina on plans to change the stairway and to knock out some walls to change the way the house looks inside. Their thought is that some differences in the house will help her not to focus on the tragedy, and to be able to better move forward with her life.
“I tell her, ‘There’s light at the end of the tunnel,’” Kathy said.
Scott and Kathy have gathered a number of people to help with the various tasks to be done. CornerStone ReStoration Service has helped with cleaning the dry wall upstairs, and has taught the volunteers how to do some of the work themselves.
Prior to this past Mother’s Day weekend, Pam said people have put in 400 man hours, spent four full weekends and a couple of week-nights, and have filled four dumpsters. She said Kathy is keeping track of things for them.
“Tina’s got so many volunteers; they just need some direction,” Kathy said.
Confident Aire HVAC business owner Tom Wangler has offered to donate his time to clean the duct work. Kaneville firefighter and commercial electrician Paul Ross, Kaneville resident and plumber John Behm, OTS (On the Spot) Drywall’s Brian Rissman and Midwest Windows’ Ken Gilke have all offered their assistance.
“It’s just all coming together,” Kathy said. “Half my neighborhood wants to help, as well as the people from my church (St. Peters in Aurora).”
Chrissy said that she feels it’s only natural for people to want to help.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” she said. “We pray for her to get home and get her life back to normal.”
Tina smiled as she looked around at the gathering of family and friends, old and new.
“They’re making it so welcoming for me to come back here,” she said. “If it weren’t for them, I’d just run away.”