Thursday, May 20, 2010

Going to Extremes...

Dear Casting,

I was forwarded Extreme Makeover Home Edition's recent press release requesting nominations of a Nashville family in need of a home makeover as a result of the recent devastating floods. There are so many in our city and state who are deserving, but because of my relationship to one of the victims, her need and the example of strength and character that she represents, I cannot go without submitting her name and story.

My mother-in-law, Dolores Donahue, is a 78 y/o widow who lives in the Bellevue suburb of Nashville, one of the hardest hit areas of the flood. Dee has been widowed for 9 years and for the several years, one of her daughters has lived in the upstairs of her River Plantation duplex, a primarily elderly and retired population.

In 1994, Dee and her husband, Don, moved from Missouri and purchased their retirement home in Nashville to be close to their four grandchildren. Big Don, as he was affectionately called, passed away in 2001 from complications with Diabetes. In 2008, Dee's sister and best friend, passed away in St. Louis. Over the years, Dee has had to deal with various illnesses, the inability to sleep well and many health issues including Meniere's Disease. Through all of this she maintains a positive attitude, never complains and keeps a close relationship with her three children who live in Nashville and her four adoring grandchildren who call her GrammaDee. 

Although officially retired, Dee works part time at Cracker Barrel and is the best salesperson in the gift shop. You can't possibly leave without purchasing something from her! In her spare time, Dee works diligently to create lasting memories by making beautiful scrapbooks for herself and for others. She turned her husband's bedroom into her scrapbook room after he passed away. She is always thinking of someone else and how she can bring him or her joy. She is a planner and never forgets a birthday, anniversary or any occasion for a gift. She remembers what everyone loves, and her gifts of love reflect just that.

Unfortunately, the Nashville Flood of  2010, has left a terrible mark on our city. Dee is without a home and has only water-logged and ruined scrapbooks and photo albums... remnants of albums filled with a lifetime of memories -- from her childhood in St. Louis, to the images of her children growing up in Columbia, MO and to her grandparent years in Nashville.  

Dee owned her home and its contents outright and has had no mortgage to worry about. When she and Big Don custom built and purchased their duplex, she was told that flood insurance was not needed. Unfortunately, those words have come back to haunt us (and so many). At 78, her life has been turned upside down...

Early Sunday morning, May 2, 2010, Elaine Donahue, woke Dee up to evacuate her River Plantation home. The flood waters had reached their front door, and they needed to get out right away. Elaine literally saved Dee's life, and they made it safely to her daughter and son-in-law's home. As the rains continued to pour on Sunday, we were unaware of just what was happening in Dee's neighborhood. Although the rains ended Sunday night, the water in Nashville continued to rise to exponential proportions. On Monday, May 3, we were still unable to return to Dee's home. Literally, there were jet skis seen motoring past the tops of the homes.

Sadly, we were unable to get back to Dee's home until Tuesday, May 4, 2010 after it had been under 6 feet of water for 48 hours. When we opened the door to her home that day, we gasped and no one could stop crying. Truly, the scene was horrible... everything ransacked by filthy flood waters, mud & silt marking the water line at about 6 feet, furniture tossed about the house like it was nothing... devastating. The first thing we looked for was Big Don's ashes. Although wet, we found them and the urn that held them.

After the initial shock and glad recovery of Big Don, we began working right away to remove all of the water-logged furniture and memories. Volunteers came to help us throughout the week. We took the children out of school to help. Friends took their children out of school to help, and in a week's time, we were able to gut her home of everything on the first floor. In Dee's neighborhood, because of its duplex design and row-like housing plat, the scene became familiar from one end of the row to the other... heartbreaking. Lives and memories piled 8 feet high along the roadway sorted into piles of metal, wood, and "household".

The scene in Bellevue mimics so many scenes across our state. Were it not for the willing hearts and helping hands of volunteers, I'm afraid that Dee's and so many other homes would still be filled with water. Dee lost most all of the contents of her home. We were able to recover some items, but most of the furniture was water logged and split. We had to use a sledgehammer on some of it just to get the drawers open. All of her electronics and appliances were ruined, and we were only able to salvage some of her clothing. Most of the water that came into these homes was sewage filled and bacteria laden -- not something you can just rinse off.

Today, we are trying to help Dee figure out how to rebuild. We have applied for government assistance and are working to make sure that her name is in every assistance program possible. FEMA sent Dee a check for about $15,000.00; however, this is less than a third of what it will cost to rebuild her home, not to mention furnish it and clothe her. FEMA declared her home "livable"... it's not livable until it's rebuilt. There are no walls, no electricity, no water, doors that won't close and broken windows.

At any rate, as her family, it is our desire to keep Dee from going into debt to rebuild what she once owned. These are supposed to be her Golden Years. She receives Social Security and has a small amount of retirement savings, but the last thing that we want is for her to be worried about losing her retirement and how she will afford to rebuild.  I have helped our children who call Dee, GrammaDee, build a website to raise $50,000 so that Dee can have a home again. It's a monumental task. ( We cannot do it without help.

Please seriously consider, Dee Donahue, as a candidate for Extreme Makeover Home Edition. She is so deserving of the help. She is a selfless gem of a woman. When you meet her, you will understand why we love her so. 

As you consider Dee, please also consider the elderly neighborhood of River Plantation where Dee lives. Your program could certainly rebuild a whole row of duplexes that were ruined by the flood. It would be a big task, but the houses are small; the people are in great need, and your program can garner resources like no program I've ever seen. (As a side note: Dee's attached neighbor's passed away a year ago. Their home has been on the market for almost as long. We also gutted it b/c it's condition had a huge impact on Dee's home. We don't know if it will be rebuilt.)

Below are some photos, and the link to our website is The website is full of photos and includes a TV clip of Dee being interviewed after the flood.. Thank you for your consideration of her and the elderly community of River Plantation.

With Sincere Gratitude,

Laura Lyn Donahue

Help us with flood relief

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