The house has made such a difference
Earl Phillips and his wife, Belinda, have been married for more than 20 years. For most of that time, they and their son, Blake, lived in an aging mobile home parked on the three-acre site of Earl’s parents’ home in Lucedale, Mississippi.
When Hurricane Katrina moved through Lucedale, the trailer was battered beyond repair and the wheelchair ramp was destroyed. Since Habitat for Humanity’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in 2008, the Phillips family has been living in a new, fully accessible house built in partnership with George County Habitat.
Seventeen-year-old Blake, who has spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the spinal column, uses a wheelchair to get around. Earl, who is on permanent disability with rheumatoid arthritis, said the house has changed everything for his family.
“It’s been better for all of us, especially Blake,” he said. “The house has made such a difference for him. He is so much more confident, and he loves his independence.”
The Phillips’ home is the first fully accessible house built by George County Habitat. Halls and doorways are 36 inches wide, to accommodate Blake’s wheelchair; the kitchen offers easy-access reach; and one bathroom in the house was built specifically to meet Blake’s needs as he grows.
“As big as he’s gotten, and as big as his wheelchair is, I don’t think he could have maneuvered in the bathroom in that trailer,” his father said. “And that ramp getting into the trailer was so steep, there always had to be somebody to go with him to help him up or down.
“Now he can go right down the sidewalk with his wheelchair,” Phillips added. “He can leave when he wants and come back when he gets ready. He likes to be able to do for himself. He’s much more confident and independent.”
Phillips’ wife, meanwhile, has been able to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education—attending classes at night while holding down a full-time job as a middle school teacher’s assistant. By next school year, she hopes to have a teaching job of her own.
Blake, who is in 10th grade, has harbored a fascination with weather since Hurricane Katrina and wants to explore meteorology as a career.
“Eventually this will be Blake’s house,” Phillips said. “That’s mainly what we wanted it for. It’s set up for him. We hope he’ll live here for a long time.”