Minnesota Plumbing Company Reaches Out

Expanded bathroom makes life easier for Pay it Forward recipient
Minnesota Plumbing Company Reaches Out
Jason Ferch and the 2014 Pay it Forward crew.

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Note: This is the third of a three-part series on T ‘N G Plumbing in Dexter, Minnesota, owners Todd and Gina Grundmeier and their Pay it Forward project.

How do you reach out and thank a community that votes you the county’s best plumber? How do you show appreciation for friends and neighbors, many of whom you’ve never met before, who offer to help rebuild your life?

“My husband and I, we had a house fire Nov. 8, 2010, and lost everything,” says Gina Grundmeier, co-owner of T ‘N G Plumbing in Dexter, Minnesota.

“We’ve felt some of the community love — people bringing us clothes and meals. I didn’t know 75 percent of the people that would call or bought my kids clothes.”

Out of no sense of obligation or material gain, Gina and her husband, Todd, a master plumber, have been paying it forward, building bathrooms for others in need, for the past three years.

When a woman waiting on a kidney and her disabled husband were overrun by mold and mildew caused by leaky water pipes — Todd and Gina were there for them.

When a couple, battling back from the loss of their son and daughter to suicidal bullying and depression, sought relief from a broken water heater and shower that dripped into the basement — Todd and Gina helped lend a hand.

When a man, paralyzed from the waist down, had difficulty squeezing his wheelchair through a too-small bathroom door — Todd and Gina were there.

Together with a small army of volunteers, the couple that once had to scrap together coins to purchase a gallon of milk is rebuilding lives — one bathroom at a time.

“We have so much to be thankful for,” says Gina of the Pay it Forward project that made life a little easier for Jason Ferch and his wife, Shannon, in 2014.

Chris and Debbie Chickering, Jason’s father-in-law and mother-in-law, say it best in their nomination letter:

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Jason Ferch fell from a billboard sign in 1995. He was paralyzed from the waist down. He spent the next three months of his life at St. Mary’s hospital rehabilitating for the life ahead of him. His son Dakota was 1 1/2 years old at the time.

Life was not easy for Jason, but he fought to better himself and went on to college at Winona State and graduated in 2001 with a degree in social work. When he graduated from Winona State he received, along with his diploma, the Vice President's Distinguished Service Award! He enjoyed working with people with disabilities; he understood what they were going through and he wanted to be there to help them.

In May 2003, he married Shannon Chickering, who also had a degree in social work and also graduated from Winona State in 2000. She is the job placement coordinator at Cedar Valley Services and has been employed there since 2005.

Jason started working at Cedar Valley in September 2003 and left there in August of 2010 to take a job with Mower County. While working at Cedar Valley he was given the 2007 Courage Center’s Jay & Rose Phillips Award for people with disabilities for “Outstanding Success” in work. He is also president of the board for Mower Council for the Handicapped.

In 2008, he became ill with pressure ulcers and had to be hospitalized for 2 1/2 months at St. Mary’s. It was very stressful on Jason to say the least, just wondering how he was going to pay the bills and Shannon being without her husband for that time, struggling to make ends meet.

He did get better and was able to go back to work, until he experienced another setback with additional pressure ulcers in 2013, and experienced another 3-month stay in the hospital. This put the Ferches in more of a financial burden. Since returning back to work in September 2013, he needs to take 2-hour breaks at home so that he can rest out of the wheelchair to prevent any additional ulcers. They have been trying to redo their bathroom for a long time to make it handicap accessible, but never could find the money to do the renovation, as it was too expensive.

Then, in November 2013, he developed seven blood clots in his lungs and was back in the hospital. While there he developed pulmonary hypertension. He is still and always will have to deal with health issues. Jason needs to take Coumadin for the rest of his life. He also had a heart catheter placed for his medication. 

With all the medical bills, it is very hard for Shannon and Jason to get ahead; and they need a new bathroom. Jason has no privacy when he needs to use the bathroom, as he cannot close the door. It would be nice for him to be able to close the door and have a shower he can wheel into. Right now he has to transfer to the toilet, then to the shower bench and swing his legs over the tub to get into the shower. A remodeled bathroom would mean the world to both of them to avoid any injuries from transferring.

Even though they would probably benefit from Jason going on disability, the thought of that would be a setback from all his hard work of getting an education and working to pay the medical bills. Hopefully, all their hard work and dedication will pay off someday. Meanwhile, a new bathroom from the T ‘N G family would be too wonderful to put into words.

Thank you for your time in reading this letter.

 Chris and Debbie Chickering

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Through T ‘N’ G Plumbing’s Pay it Forward program, the Ferches not only got a new bathroom, but a new water heater and water softener as well. The kitchen was painted, new faucet added and junction box in the basement replaced. In addition to expanding the bathroom by 2 feet to create turnaround space for Jason, a roll-in shower, ADA toilet, wall-count sink, ADA flooring and storage were added. Total cost of the project was about $25,000 when finished.

“It was simply amazing,” Gina says. “As much as it did for him in mobility and spirituality, we all walked away with a huge sense of doing something that really mattered.”

Each project begins with a call for letters of nomination. Gina typically posts notices on the plumbing company’s website and Facebook page.

“I’m not saying you need a 500-word essay. Just write me a letter in a personal tone and send a few pictures of the issues that need to be addressed,” she says. “We’ve had over 100 nominations each year.”

A team of two volunteers goes through the entries and forwards five finalists and five runners-up to Gina, who follows up with background checks and home inspections.

“Everything we do is donated, but last year I did do a ‘pass the hat’ and approached some other organizations because, in honor of the family, I wanted to donate to NAMI’s suicide prevention program. And then there’s a local organization called Parenting Resource Center, which is a resource for parents to talk when they have kids who have mental disease. Each organization received $500.”

Gina hopes to do the same for PKD (polycystic kidney disease) to recognize this year’s Pay it Forward selection, Becky Josephson, who suffers from the disease.

“It’s just another way to recognize what she’s gone through,” Gina says. “I’ve never heard of PKD until I met her. It’s the fourth-leading cause of kidney disease and failure.”

Gina admits to putting in well over 200 hours on the Pay it Forward project, but says it’s time well spent and encourages other plumbers to do the same.

“It’s just so rewarding,” she says.



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