Habitat for Humanity, community reach out to help Adam Lavender | AspenTimes.com

Habitat for Humanity, community reach out to help Adam Lavender

A betting man would bet on Adam Lavender.

The bet would be that he someday reaches his goal of exchanging his wheelchair for a bicycle.

Lavender, 36, of Carbondale, is a former pro cyclist who competed in several disciplines and had a special affinity for downhill and free riding. He was among the pioneers of the single-track trail network accessed from Prince Creek Road outside Carbondale. It's clear from talking to him and some of his friends that he was fearless — though not careless — on a bike.

But on April 28, 2012, Lavender experienced the worst nightmare for anyone who rides mountain bikes or is even vaguely familiar with what cyclists do. He and colleagues on his cycling team had finished building a special course on private land near Grand Junction. The course featured the banked turns, berms, jumps and drops that Lavender loves. After the final day of work, he took a spin, as did other riders who wanted to get the dirt of the new course packed down.

"There was nothing out of my depth or really challenging," he said.

But he was tired after working on the course all day. He equates what happened to him with a wipeout on skis after a long powder day.

Recommended Stories For You

Lavender said he failed to scrub enough speed going into one particularly tricky maneuver and started going over the handlebars.

"My instincts said to tuck and roll," he said.

His chin was tucked when he came down on his head.

"I basically had a vertical impact," he said.

Special connection to Carbondale

He calmly and matter-of-factly describes how the resulting neck and spinal-cord injury could have been worse. He is now an incomplete quadriplegic, which means he can move his arms to some degree and twist his neck. He said he can feel his toes and has sensation throughout his body. As the swelling has gone down over the past 18 months, more blood and spinal fluid has started flowing, and he's slowly gaining more use of his muscles.

Nevertheless, he said recovery will be a long, hard process. He was recently hospitalized while battling pneumonia. His health presents daily challenges, which he takes on with the help of his wife, Tanell, who is his primary caregiver.

One challenge was finding a place to live. It's important to him and his family that they remain in the town they love. Lavender, who owned a custom woodworking and cabinetmaking business, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley from Paonia in 1999. While he's lived "up and down" the valley, "Carbondale has always been my hinge point," he said.

They tried to find suitable accommodations that meet his special needs and still provide a good house for their two daughters, Ananda, 6, and Aliya, 2. The family includes 19-year-old stepson Jacob.

Adam said it was important for him not to have to turn the living room of a home into his bedroom because of his limited mobility. He also dreaded the thought of not being able to tuck his girls in at bedtime because the bedrooms were on a different floor.

Habitat learns of family's plight

That's where the Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork chapter came into the story. President Scott Gilbert said he got a handful of messages from people who know Adam and from others who just knew of the Lavenders' plight. Gilbert investigated the circumstances and found the family good candidates for a Habitat house. The chapter bought 12 house lots at the Keator Grover affordable-housing subdivision during the tough times of the recession. Work started July 30 on the Lavenders' 1,900-square-foot house, the first Habitat is building there.

It's a special house that will feature an elevator that will allow Adam to access everything from the therapy room in the half basement to the bedrooms upstairs. It features picture windows, some with a view of Mount Sopris, and numerous efficiency features that Gilbert said will make it the first LEED Platinum residence in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The special features make the house more expensive than the typical house Habitat builds. The Roaring Fork Valley chapter needs help covering the fiscal gap, Gilbert said. There are also opportunities for volunteers and in-kind service providers (see related story on page A3).

The Lavenders are blown away by the prospect of living in their own home in Carbondale. It should be ready for them in July. For now, they are living in Iron Bridge.

Adam said he thought when first contacted by Gilbert that the nonprofit organization might be able to help with a ramp at his rental house. He didn't dream they would give him the opportunity to acquire an entire house.

"This has created an opportunity to have a sense of permanence in the community," he said. "All of my friends and my support system are in Carbondale."

A little help from his friends

Accepting the help has been a humbling as well as gratifying experience for the Lavenders. Adam said he was a "vagabond" when he moved from South Carolina to Colorado as a young man. He worked in farming in Paonia and then started training under a master woodworker and cabinetmaker.

"I kind of caught on to the Colorado spirit of self-sufficiency," he said. "I tried not to rely on anybody for anything."

A lot of Adam's friends in construction, many of whom are also his biking buddies, have volunteered time. Shawn Shuman, who owns a small framing company, was able to volunteer his crews' time between jobs. Habitat for Humanity ended up hiring the three-man team to accelerate the work before the snow flies.

"When I found out this was going on, I had to get out and help," Shuman said, explaining that he and Adam have been friends for 15 years. Whenever Shuman has been in a bind in his professional or personal life, Adam was always willing to help him. Now it's time to return the favors.

When Adam visited the job site Thursday, Shuman gave him an exuberant report.

"You'd be amazed how many of the bros came out to help," he said, producing a big grin on Adam's face.

"It makes me glad I've done right by my friends," Adam said after Shuman returned to work.

Focused on recovery

Now that they know where they're going to live, the Lavenders can focus on Adam's recovery. He said therapy through Hospice Home Care of the Valley has been invaluable.

"They've really helped me push the envelope," he said.

Amanda Boxtel, a well-known Aspenite who advocates for people with disabilities, helped Adam acquire a special electric stem therapy stationary bicycle. Electrodes are placed on Lavender's quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Computer-generated, low-level electrical impulses are sent to Lavender's legs to generate contractions and resistance to pedaling. It's designed to maintain muscles.

"I can't even explain how profound of an effect that has on me, to push the pedals," Lavender said.

He said he is determined that he will pedal a real bike again someday and be a dance partner for his wife — he says she's an excellent dancer. He's also determined to give back to Carbondale and Habitat for Humanity in any way he can once his health improves.

He's kept a positive attitude from the minute he hit the ground in the accident. He recalled that he was paralyzed from the neck down right after the accident. He forced himself to remain calm and concentrate on breathing so he could return to his family.

"I'm just happy to be here, to be here for my kids and my wife," he said. "I'd say my own attitude is due to my little girls."

Enlisting volunteers and harnessing discounted materials has always been the key ingredient to building a Habitat for Humanity house. Even then, it’s often a challenge to make the numbers work.

Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat’s Roaring Fork Valley Chapter, said the organization is trying to raise money to cover a “gap” in funding for its most recent project, a home for the Adam Lavender family (see related story, A1).

The house will cost about $225,000 to build, Gilbert said. Habitat is spending more than usual because of Lavender’s special requirements. An elevator is needed so he can access the entire house. Habitat Roaring Fork is also following its goal of making every house highly energy-efficient. A $19,000 grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency will help it achieve some but not all of the “green” elements. The home is expected to be the first in the Roaring Fork Valley to receive Leadership in Energy/Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating, the highest given, Gilbert said.

The house’s green features will include exceeding the building code for insulation, using less lumber because of the design, incorporating solar photovoltaic, incorporating windows that use wood from managed forests, installing LED lighting and water-saving showers and toilets.

In addition, the house has a high “walkability” factor because it is situated close to schools, a bus stop and shopping so the Lavenders don’t have to spend time driving everywhere.

The house is being sold to the Lavenders for $150,000, because Habitat for Humanity bases the price on what the family can afford, not the construction price. That leaves a shortfall of $75,000. The mortgage will be assigned to Alpine Bank and Habitat will receive $108,000 in cash that it can use immediately, adding $42,000 to its loss. That leaves a total shortfall of $117,000. The nonprofit organization aims to avoid dipping into its reserve on individual projects.

The shortfall on home construction would be greater if Habitat couldn’t gather an army of volunteers. The Lavenders have many friends in the Carbondale and a lot of people they don’t know have learned of their plight and offered to help.

“Their friends call up and say, ‘When can we get on the job site?’” said Geneva Farr, volunteer coordinator for Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork.

A crew of nine from Coldwell Banker Mason and Morse was at the job site in Carbondale on Thursday.

Shari Nova, a property manager of the real estate firm, said she has known the Lavenders for a couple of years. She learned of Adam’s accident during a recent fundraiser and later learned that Habitat For Humanity was building a house for the family. She personally wanted to volunteer time and also pitched the idea to her office mates in Carbondale. They also wanted to pitch in. They tackled a number of tasks assigned by the Habitat supervisor on the site.

To raise the remaining $117,000 to break even on the project, Habitat is seeking cash donations. Donors have the options of “buying” a brick that will be used in the Lavender home construction and having a special message engraved. Habitat also seeks discounts or contributions of material from supplies.

To learn more about how to volunteer or contribute, visit http://www.habitatroaringfork.org or call 970-948-8264.

scondon@aspentimes.com