- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

CANTON, Ohio (AP) - When his water line froze on Jan. 24, 2014, Jim Bell did what any home owner would do:

He tried to unthaw it.

But a spark from his propane torch ignited a fire. Bell’s wife, Barb, who was trapped in their kitchen, was rescued by their neighbors.

The loss, including pets and their vehicles, was total.

“It was the coldest day of the year,” Jim Bell recalled. “It fed the fire.”

But there’s a happy ending. On Thursday, the Bells will officially take ownership of a new home built for them on their own land by Habitat for Humanity of East Central Ohio.

“We don’t do it often,” explained Courtney Brown, Habitat Family Partnership Director. “Most people are just first-time homebuyers. There have to be very special conditions.”

Because of steep medical bills and other financial pressures, the Bells had allowed the insurance on their home of 30 years to lapse. However, the home, which sat on 2.8 acres, was paid for.

Josh Wheeler, a Perry High School student and nephew of the neighbors who rescued the couple, heard about the fire. A member of the Army Junior ROTC, Wheeler brought the issue to his fellow cadets, who organized a fundraising drive to help the couple. Cadets even sifted through the rubble to help the Bells recover any keepsakes.

It was a comfort to a couple who had already weathered some storms. Barb Bell had bypass surgery in 2006, and Jim Bell lost his job when the ceramic plant where he was employed went out of business.

“We’ve had stuff left and right ever since,” she said.

Over the next year, the Bells stayed with friends and their sons before getting an apartment in Massillon.

The cadets raised more than $7,000 from businesses and individuals toward helping the Bells to rebuild.

“They realized it takes a lot,” Brown said. “But the money they raised sustained them (Bells) while the house was being built, and also helped them buy utensils and furniture.”

Jim Bell said he considered applying for Habitat in the past, but changed his mind. After the fire, friends convinced him to try again.

A new Habitat home, Brown said, costs about $50,000. Families purchase the homes through no-interest loans. The payments are cycled back into the nonprofit ministry to build new homes.

Undaunted, the cadets put together a Powerpoint presentation for Denny Fox and Paul Helmuth of Fred F. Silk Foundation.

“They really committed to young people and the work they do,” said JROTC Capt. Jeremy Adjoran, one of the presenters. “They were really happy it was youth who wanted to do it.”

“There were impressed,” Brown said, adding that the grant was given on the stipulation that the cadets did the work. “Jeremy just took this over. He got the volunteers; he really took ownership. The Perry ROTC should be so proud.”

Jim Bell, who has since found another job, said he’ll be volunteering for Habitat when building resumes in the spring.

“I appreciate everything they’ve done, especially the young people from out-of-state who came to help,” he said. “I’d like to have a cookout someday to thank them - but they’ll have to do the cooking.”

Barb Bell said she’s grateful that they get to remain in their quiet neighborhood. The two-bedroom home is handicap-accessible, which features ramps and extra-wide doors, Adjoran said.

Asked what she likes most about it, she replied “everything.”


Information from: The Repository, https://www.cantonrep.com

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