WEST PARIS — A 24-year-old West Paris woman, who wasn't supposed to live beyond two years, spends a lot of time laughing with her family.
"I have an extremely strong will," Beth Coffin said as she sat in a wheelchair in the kitchen of her High Street home. "My doctor tells me I'm stubborn."
But beneath all the laughter is the stark reality of the family's situation.
Beth suffers from spinal muscular atrophy type II, two blood diseases and scoliosis that has left her in a wheelchair. Her mother and caregiver, Bonnie Coffin, and her stepfather, Gary Waterhouse, have chronic Lyme disease and are unable to work. Their home, an old trailer with a stick-built addition, is falling apart.
A dripping leak in the living room ceiling has now turned to a steady stream. Mold and rot are evident in the kitchen floors, and the bathtub threatens to fall through the rotted floor at any time. The list goes on.
"We couldn't keep up with the repairs because of all of the stuff that happened," Bonnie said.
After a newspaper story about the family's plight in May, a group of area residents formed Beth's House Committee to build her a home. They've raised $8,000 of the estimated $100,000 needed and it's planning a fundraiser this weekend.
"She is a dear friend of ours and we felt the need to do something to help her and her family," said Carrie Andrews, a committee founder, who along with her fiance, Rick Cook, filled a bag with groceries and went to see Beth last spring.
"It was all I could do to hold back the tears . . . in fact I had to leave, walk outside, to contain myself from the sadness of what they have to go through each and every day," Andrews said.
Beth sleeps in a Porta-Lung, a 30-inch tube bed decorated with colorful flower stickers. She must remain on her back with her head in a neck collar outside the machine, which helps her breathe.
The bed, which she was given when she was 15, takes up much of her dark, tiny bedroom that is brightened by colorful flower curtains she and her mom made.
Her mother must lift Beth's 54-pound body every night and slide her into the bed, then be prepared to wake up as much as every two hours to rub her stiffened joints.
A 2003 graduate of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, Beth spends the better part of each day on her computer playing games and e-mailing friends, signing off with her signature "zoom, zoom, zoom."
"If you ever see her at Wal-Mart, you'll know why," Bonnie said, referring to the signature. A sticker on the back of her wheelchair reads: "2Fast4You."
Beth's House Committee hopes she'll soon be wheeling around in a new home. Committee member Joe Bumbaca of Norway, a retired builder, said there was discussion about buying a used mobile home immediately and putting it on the site, but the driveway is too steep to get it into place. Instead, the committee hopes to break ground for a new home in the spring, preferably at another site that provides easier, safer access.
"I only wanted to be involved in the building, but I saw the need to get them going in the money part of it. It seems to be working," said Bumbaca of donations that have gone from $4,000 to $8,000 in a month.
On Saturday, Oct. 10, the committee is sponsoring Musical Hammer, a benefit concert at Celebration Barn at 190 Stock Farm Road just off Route 117 in Paris. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and will feature Western Maine performers Jewel Clark and Donny Katlin, Peter Morton, Nate Towne and Brad Hooper. Seating is limited to 125 people and $10 tickets are available at Books N Things and Creative Media, both on Main Street in Norway. Tickets will also be available at the door. There is no heat in the barn so concertgoers are encouraged to dress appropriately or bring a blanket.
"There are a whole lot of people in the process of getting involved. Now we need some big-time contributions," Bumbaca said.
Donations may be sent to a special account at Norway Savings Bank, 356 Main St., Norway, ME 04268, and checks made out to "Beth's House."