FORESTDALE — Standing in the kitchen of her home, Maureen Lemire posited that, if Sept. 11 memorialized buildings that came crashing down, maybe it was fitting that on this day something should be built.
On Sunday, Lemire watched as more than a dozen volunteers built a ramp and deck that would allow her disabled daughter, Cayla, 21, to get into a new addition specially constructed for her.
"This has been incredible, to have all these people here," Lemire said.
"They are great people."
This is the second year of The Big Fix, a one-day event in which Hyannis-based Housing Assistance Corp. organizes volunteers to focus on projects in one town that help disabled and senior citizens with home repairs that improve their quality of life.
Last year, HAC focused on Barnstable. This year, the nonprofit agency, which assists Cape residents in finding and staying in healthy, safe and stable homes, decided to concentrate their efforts in Sandwich.
Having The Big Fix happen on Sept. 11, which had been designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance, helped bolster the memory that the decade-old tragedy was also a day when Americans came together to help one another, as individuals and as a nation.
Earlier this summer, HAC staffers were discussing what projects to do this year when Julie Wake, director of marketing, received a phone call from Cayla's grandmother. The contractor who had been building an addition onto the Lemire house had walked away from the job. That plea was followed by a letter from Cayla, a second-year student at Northeastern University, taking courses online.
"It was a very honest, beautiful letter," Wake recalled. "I forwarded it to the rest of the team. We decided in the next couple of hours we would make it happen."
Cayla was born with a form of muscular dystrophy that requires her to be in a motorized wheelchair all day. But she also has a ready smile, an easy, patient disposition and alert mind.
Despite suffering a setback three years ago that had her hospitalized for 100 days at Massachusetts General Hospital and resulted in her having to breathe through a surgically implanted hole in her neck, she remained undaunted. Cayla graduated from Sandwich High School and aspires to a degree in psychology with hopes to work in that field or in social work.
Sunday, her hopes were concentrated on seeing her new addition, built with a special federal loan program, for the first time. Although the contractor left it unfinished, it's easy to visualize her sitting room, bedroom and a specially constructed bathroom she can access with her motorized wheelchair instead of being carried in.
"There are a lot of us in the profession who like to give back," said Neal Pratt, a custom builder who does a lot of volunteer work for HAC. Private contractors, AmeriCorps volunteers and HAC staffers swarmed over the ramp and yard, pouring concrete, cutting posts, screwing down decking. By early afternoon, they had the ramp nearly built.
Wake said the response from the building community was fantastic, with national companies chipping in; Home Depot gave them a $3,000 grant for materials. Town officials in Sandwich and Bourne also helped smooth the way, with expedited permitting and special access to disposal areas for construction waste.
"Meeting Cayla made it much more personal, knowing she will be able to get into her (addition)," said Rich Bryant, a senior project manager for Cape Associates Inc. of Eastham.