- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fariborz “Frank” Fouladi has prided himself on his independence since he arrived in the United States from Iran more than 30 years ago. But multiple sclerosis is taking its toll.

Diagnosed nine years ago, Mr. Fouladi, 48, is confined to a motorized wheelchair and needs help to get into his Gaithersburg house.

Now volunteers have stepped in to help remodel and do yard work — assistance Mr. Fouladi says is indicative of this country’s greatness.

“It is very important right now, with all this mess that is going on in the world, that we learn to celebrate our similarities and differences,” said Mr. Fouladi, who sat in his living room yesterday, wearing a tie with an American flag design and a button urging support for President Bush and the troops pinned to his shirt.

“I say that as a Shi’ite from Iran who’s married to a Sunni from Egypt,” he said.

Mr. Fouladi, who came to the U.S. in 1976, has stayed busy. He runs a procurement company and is the cultural ambassador for the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity in Wheaton.

However, his illness has gotten progressively worse, hampering his mobility and his ability to complete daily chores and tasks.

“I could not come in the house unless someone held the back of my chair,” Mr. Fouladi said.

And the lone wheelchair-accessible shower in his house was only approachable by leaving the house and re-entering through a side door.

“I couldn’t even go up and down the ramp,” he said. “Wintertime, when it was snowfall, forget taking showers. I would only get to take a shower once or twice a week. It’s not an easy thing to go through.”

After receiving less than satisfactory work from contractors hired to make the house and bathroom more accessible, Mr. Fouladi got in contact with Rebuilding Together, a nationwide organization that rehabilitates the houses of low-income homeowners, particularly the elderly, people with disabilities, and families with children.

Before yesterday’s work, volunteers with the organization’s Montgomery County chapter built a concrete ramp for access, widened doorways and repaired broken pathways.

“We couldn’t have dreamed of having a ramp this nice without their help,” said Mr. Fouladi’s wife, Nesreen Afifi. “It’s a joy to see these things happening for us.”

A linen closet in the master bedroom was converted to a bathroom large enough for Mr. Fouladi’s chair to navigate, with a cushioned bench installed in the shower.

Grab-bars were also installed in the bathroom and bedside, enabling Mr. Fouladi to get in and out of bed on his own again.

“The most important thing is that I have a sense of independence,” Mr. Fouladi said.

As part of AARP’s annual Day of Service, about 30 volunteers worked around the Fouladi home, clearing the house of obstacles and making it more accessible for Mr. Fouladi, said Tiffany Lundquist, spokeswoman for AARP Maryland.

AARP partnered yesterday with Rebuilding Together to help upgrade Mr. Fouladi’s home, as well as two other houses in the area. A total of about 80 volunteers pitched in on the three houses.

Rebuilding Together has been working on the Fouladi house for about the past two months, Miss Lundquist said.

“They do projects like this year-round, and they bring in different partners and groups of volunteers,” she said. “We’re providing the willing and skilled bodies to do the work.”

Volunteers with AARP yesterday installed a sink, painted walls and shined windows.

Grace Critton of Silver Spring, a member of AARP Maryland’s executive council, helped weed and mulch along the front of the house yesterday.

“It’s always good to do something that’s important for the community,” Miss Critton, 57, said. “And he was very appreciative. To be in a situation where you’re healthy and then something happens to you, it’s really wonderful to have people in the community to come help to support you.”

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