Riding down his newly paved sidewalk his used and battered wheelchair, Armondo Velesco-Farnes left his home and waved to his neighbors for the first time in 2 1/2 years Friday afternoon.
“I don’t even know if they knew I lived here,” the 79-year-old Cuban said.
Thanks to Rebuilding Together North Central Florida, a non-profit home repair agency founded in Alachua, Valesco-Farnes is now able to leave his home to do everyday tasks.
To do so, he shuffles his feet to make it up and down the ramp, smiling the whole time.
“It is 10 times better than I thought it would be,” the arthritic and retired librarian said.
Valesco-Farnes has lived in his Gainesville home for 31 years, most of that alone after his mother passed. He surrounds himself with books and paintings that take up every nook and cranny in the house.
He uses them as therapy for the mind and body.
“I’ve gone to therapy for a long time,” he said about his arthritis. “It just doesn’t do anything anymore.”
Valesco-Farnes transitioned into a wheel chair two years ago, after arthritis made using a cane and walker too difficult.
“I can take a few steps holding onto something but it’s not easy,” he said.
Dependent on his wheelchair, Valesco-Farnes was only able to roll on flat surfaces. His front yard was sandy and extremely uneven.
“It was not safe for me,” he said. “I didn’t ask people to help because I like to do things on my own. I do things by myself.”
With no family of his own and a strong desire to be independent, Valesco-Farnes stayed indoors—not visiting a doctor for over two years.
For executive director R.D. Bonner, stories like these are typical for Rebuilding Together.
“One of our goals is to meet mobility means,” Bonner said.
Rebuilding Together also brings volunteers and communities together to improve the homes and lives of homeowners in need, according to its mission statement.
For Bonner, that meant finding a team and funding to create a sidewalk that stretches from Valesco-Farnes’ door to the street.
Together with University of Florida construction students and corporate sponsors, Valesco-Farnes’ application was approved and the pathway finished in less than a week.
“[We gave him] that opportunity to be as independent as possible,” Bonner said.
Thanks to Rebuilding Together, Valesco-Farnes can get his mail, enjoy fresh air and visit his doctor.
“Now I can clean my bird bath,” he said. “Now I have the freedom as long as this works.”