A The Kathy Hunter home in Tooele is cramped for a family with three special needs sons.
“One son in a wheelchair can’t get down the hallways,” Hunter said. “His bedroom is off the living room because it has an arched doorway.”
That room doesn’t have a hung door because it was originally meant to be an office. Space in the bedrooms down the hall is restricted, too.
“They’re really not big enough to turn a wheelchair in,” Hunter said.
That’s a problem. Hunter, who previously raised four daughters, is the adoptive mother of 27-year-old Shawn, 24-year-old Michael, and 17-year-old Zach. Both Shawn and Zach use wheelchairs. All three of them have special needs.
“They’re just a very lovable family,” said Rick Ehrheart, pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele, where Hunter worships.
Last March, Hunter’s husband died by suicide in their home. Since then, Hunter has maintained her sons on a teacher’s salary and the disability payments they receive.
“They continued to live in this house where the suicide had taken place, and it was just really difficult,” Ehrheart said. “Kathy’s daughter came and asked if the church could do something to help, like maybe a bake sale. I just sort of took it all in, and I thought, ‘gosh, there ought to be something more than a bake sale that we can do for this family. They’re so good, and they have such great need.’”
That was the beginning of an ongoing project to help the Hunter family find better accommodations.
Ehrheart reached out to friends. One of them connected him with Tooele photographer Daniel Pacheco.
“I figured that if we were going to try to help these folks, we needed to have some good pictures taken,” Ehrheart said.
Ehrheart and Pacheco met, and they went to photograph the Hunter family and their home. Pacheco was shocked by its inadequacy. Besides the narrow hallways and bedrooms, the bathrooms only had normal tubs.
“Pastor Rick and I met again, and I said, a bake sale is not going to cut it,” Pacheco said. “We’ve got to raise a lot more money. This house is not sufficient. It doesn’t even meet ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements for that family.”
Ehrheart and Pacheco decided to help the Hunter family get a suitable home. They brought in attorney Frank Mohlman and CPA J.L. Johnson to square away legal and financial matters for fundraising efforts.
“All donations are going to the family,” Pacheco said. “We’ve done everything we can to keep it cost effective, safe and trusted.”
“And it goes through the church, so it’s tax deductible,” Ehrheart said.
Once the group was set up, Pacheco reached out to Jon Gossett of the Life’s Worth Living Foundation.
“Jon was the one that came up with the idea of doing a benefit concert,” Ehrheart said. “That’s sort of the short version of the story. He had a couple of contacts to start putting a benefit concert together and it was amazing how fast it came together. We were meeting in late October, early November, and we set aside a date of Dec. 16.”
“It was the only date that we could get the high school auditorium,” Gossett said.
The benefit concert featured Carver Louis, the Wayne Hoskins Band, and J. Marc Bailey. Tickets sold at $10 each. There was a silent auction in addition to donations from several corporate sponsors, as well as some on-site fundraising at the concert.
“As it turned out, it ended up being on the first snowstorm of the year, so the attendance was dampened a little bit,” Ehrheart said.
Despite the bad weather, the group managed to bring in more than $30,000 for the Hunter family, minus some expenses for the concert. Gossett said corporate sponsors, especially from the local real estate agencies, were instrumental in the concert’s success.
“I’ll tell you, I’m really impressed with our real estate agents and what they did,” Gossett said. “That was a major portion of the dollar amount of our corporate sponsors. They supported us so well.”
Ehrheart, Pacheco and Gossett all said that this is just the beginning.
“We set a goal of $200,000,” Ehrheart said. “We know that to raise that amount of money, it’s got to be an ongoing effort.”
“I think the thing to look at now, as we step back, is this really got the ball going,” Pacheco said. “Of course, we were at the end of the year and into the holidays and all those challenges that can be there, but this set the pace. We now need to regroup and say, what are we going to do next?”
The group is looking for more fundraising ideas from the community. Gossett said it would take four or five more concerts like the one held in December to reach their goal. They hope individuals will pitch in, too.
“It also really depends on how much this goes viral,” Gossett said. “If we could get on KSL’s Doug Wright, if we could get on Glen Beck, if we could get in the Salt Lake Tribune, and the Deseret News … if some of those types of things happen, that would accelerate our fundraising.”
Hearts opened as people learned about the fundraising efforts. Gossett took a $1 donation from a little girl at the benefit concert. Ehrheart accepted $5 for the family from a teenager. Pacheco said a local Boy Scout is considering a fundraising telethon for the family as part of his Eagle project.
“I would like to see a handful of our major employee groups pull off something in each of their local places,” Pacheco said. “What can they do, right there?”
He also said Tooele County has 50,000 residents.
“If we can get 20,000 of them to put in just $2, and then turn around and get three of their friends and family members to do the same, look what we could do,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve lost the vision, and that is to really make a difference for this family in the long term.”
“To be fair, even with what we’ve raised, their lives will be changed,” Ehrheart said. “I don’t want to minimize that.”
Ehrheart said people in the community created a wonderful Christmas for the family. The Kiwanis Club came by with a 50-inch television for them, and a woman organized gift donations that Ehrheart estimated at over $2,000.
This project has also brought unity to different faiths from across Tooele County.
“I think that’s what was eye-opening for me,” Ehrheart said. “As a Lutheran, we’re a minority, we know that, but the way people stepped up to help this family showed that it didn’t matter that there were differences. It didn’t matter that these were special needs kids. People just opened their hearts, and it was emotional.”
“We joke as a group, because when we get together we’ve got a Catholic, a Mormon and a Lutheran all together,” Pacheco said. “We joke about it when we come together, but it really is a community coming together.”
And Hunter is grateful.
“I just don’t know how to thank all those people,” she said. “I’m just in awe. All those people just helped. They don’t even know me.”
Hunter’s plans for a future home include wider hallways, more space in bedrooms, adaptive bathrooms, a track system on the ceiling, and nice ramps at both the front and the back doors. She’s listing things her sons might need in the future.
“When I pass away, I don’t want them to go to a nursing home,” she said. “I want them to have a home where people can come in and take care of them … it will be their home. They’re brothers, and I want them to stay together as brothers.”
Hunter said Michael and Zach don’t understand all the gifts the family has received, but Shawn knows. He asks to know what’s going on.
She agreed that even for Shawn, it’s already gone beyond a bake sale that never happened. It’s gone beyond one family, beyond one faith, beyond one industry. Helping the Hunter family has become a symbol of a united community in Tooele Valley.
“I’m so grateful for it all,” Hunter said. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin to thank people.”
The Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church will accept donations to help the Hunter family by mail at P.O. Box 577, Tooele, Utah, 84074 or online at www.youcaring.com/kathyhuntershawnhuntermichaelhunterzacharyhunter-979980.