Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs - Building Homes and Strengthening Communities

A Renaissance Man

A Renaissance Man

Andrew W. has lived in his modest home for 18 years. He’s planted live oaks around it and listens to the different birds roosting and twittering in their branches. He shares his home and life with his pet of 19 years, Earl, an African Gray parrot.

“He listens to the other birds all day long and imitates their calls,” he explained. “He imitates noises he hears on television. He loves to be talked to, but he can really be a handful.”

Standing at just over 6-feet tall, Andrew spent many years employed as a Viking combat warrior, working at renaissance faires and festivals around the state. He designed and created his own armor, shields and helmets, and his walls are adorned with those and the other combat weaponry he has collected or used at one time during his time as a Viking warrior. The walls share space with the paintings, drawings and photography all done by this artisan craftsman.

“I grew up with craftsmen all around me,” Andrew explained. “My father and my grandfather were artists. My grandfather worked on the Texas State Capitol dome at one point.”

Life changed dramatically in 2016 for Andrew when he suffered a stroke and developed another life-threatening illness. He explained that when he started to recover the medical staff that cared for him were so amazed when he stood for the first time.

“A lot of people came to visit me, took video of the first time I was able to just stand up. They all thought it was miraculous that I was still alive. It’s been two years since I came away from that.”

However, when Andrew returned home after undergoing physical therapy, he discovered the ramp that had been installed allowing him access to his home was not usable. It was so steep that the home assistance professional with him had to struggle to wheel Andrew up and even lost one of his shoes in the process.

“I couldn’t leave my home for a year and a half; couldn’t get over the threshold and I certainly couldn’t use the ramp,” he said. “I couldn’t feel sunlight on my skin or have the sky overhead.”

Andrew spent months calling various agencies and nonprofits to try to get the ramp rebuilt. He was finally put in contact with Cindy Lee, executive director for Rebuilding Together Austin, a Central Texas nonprofit that provides free critical health and safety repairs for low-income, disabled, and veteran homeowners at no cost, using the services of volunteers and contractors. The agency also is one of many program administrators for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ (TDHCA) Amy Young Barrier Removal Program (AYBRP). The AYBRP provides one-time grants of up to $20,000 for persons with disabilities who need modifications to increase accessibility and eliminate hazardous conditions in their home. TDHCA implements the AYBRP through multiple nonprofit organizations and local governments who process intake applications, verify eligibility, and oversee construction.

While working to rebuild Andrew’s ramp with the help of other volunteers and donated materials, Cindy helped him through the AYBRP eligibility requirements so that he could receive help to modify other areas of his home.

Rebuilding Together Austin used the funds to replace flooring, replace the HVAC unit, install a walk-in shower, new storm and front doors, and replaced the threshold that allowed Andrew all-access to his new ramp. Construction timelines created a small inconvenience in that Andrew had to wait a week before using the ramp for the first time.

“Everyday I’m grateful. I have these floors, sunlight through the window and doors, and a shower so I can feel clean. No more sponge baths!” he said. “I swept my ramp the other day and took the garbage out; I can go out and do all THAT now.”

And still listen to the birds with his pal Earl.

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Amy Young Barrier Removal Program