A Chance Christmas Encounter

One act of kindness sets in motion a ripple effect of community assistance for a Broad Run resident

How well do you know your neighbors? Would you know if someone living near you was in need of assistance? It might come as a surprise, but there are members of our community who have ‘fallen off the radar’ and need help. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to ask for help, or are too proud to. But during this season of giving it’s good to be reminded that our simple acts of kindness can cause ripples of change for others.

On December 25, 2018, Carla Vergot and her husband Rick were headed to the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy for their traditional Christmas Day hike, when their day took an unexpected turn that would forever change many people’s lives. As they drove down Beverly Mill Drive, a man stumbled into the road and almost fell in front of their car. Carla could tell the gentleman was unsteady and got out to check on him. That is when she met Tom Davenport, a legally blind Broad Run resident who’s spent the last two years living alone.

Despite the fact that Tom went for a walk daily, he had a hard time that particular day and it seemed fate intervened when Carla and Rick passed him. Tom thanked Carla for helping to walk him home and as they talked, she learned he had been living alone and as of late, struggling to keep on top of his mail due to his vision loss. In fact, he expressed concern that he needed to sign some legal documents, but wasn’t sure which line to sign. Carla offered to come back at a later date to help him go through the documents. This one simple act of kindness became the catalyst for a much larger, community-based effort to help a neighbor in need.

Tom is a U.S. Navy veteran who served as a Surface Line Officer. He is also an accomplished academic, with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in urban studies. He has worked in the private sector for Radio Shack and the Washington Metro Transit Authority. It is fair to say the rigors of his career demanded good vision. On July 5, 2016, while working as a station manager for Metro, an object hit his eye which caused clouding at first. Thinking he had a cataract, he began to lose vision in the one eye. He was diagnosed with optic neuropathy. He went on short term disability and later had to quit his job. (Although he reported his injury and had been on disability, there was little to no follow up after.) He was later declared legally blind, although he thankfully he can see shadows and some shapes. His wife had been ill, and was moved to a medical facility in Staunton, leaving Tom living alone.

For over two years, he lived with his compromised vision, making do as he could. He took Ubers to the grocery store and was always met with compassion. He fondly shared how the produce manager at the nearby Food Lion would greet him with a hug and help him shop for groceries. But as time went on, his mail piled up, and staying on top of household chores became increasingly challenging. By December 2018, he needed help.

During Carla’s visit with Tom after Christmas, it quickly became apparent the legal documents that needed attention were out of her purview, and were only a small part of the big picture. He also needed help with other challenges. Carla started the ball rolling. She arranged for a cleaning crew to clean and organize Tom’s kitchen, which she felt was an immediate need. She also took Tom’s dog Midnight to the vet for a check-up and the vet donated the needed shots, supplements, and care.

While helping with the mail, she noticed that Tom and his wife of 27 years were Catholic, so she reached out to St. Stephen the Martyr parish in Middleburg to see if they could assist. She contacted the Pastor, Father Christopher Murphy, who consulted with the Legion of Mary. The Legion of Mary (LoM) is a group of parishioners dedicated to visiting the homebound. Several members of the LoM are very experienced in helping the homebound as they’ve had careers in social work. Carol Kardash is a nurse and former case manager for a large health care company and Margie Bocchichio is a former case manager for Fairfax County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). This experience was especially helpful as they knew how to apply for HIPPA advocacy which would later expedite arranging Tom’s medical appointments. This was an important missing piece for Tom – having an advocate to help him navigate medical appointments and legal documents.

Tom and the Knights of Columbus Chapter that has taken him under their wing.

When Carol and Margie visited Tom’s home to assess the situation they quickly saw that living alone with limited sight presented several issues requiring attention. “Everyone had great ideas, but finding the right organization to gather this information to move forward [was the challenge],” Margie said. Tom’s safety was deemed priority number one. His faithful companion, Midnight, as well as a house cat, were also of concern. Over time, and with much convincing, they were able to eventually get Tom to accept grace from community members and rehome the animals where they could best be served.

Margie took Tom grocery shopping; cleaning crews donated their time and resources to clean the entire house. Food drives were held to ensure Tom could receive food without the hassle and money spent getting Ubers to take him out, and entire meals were cooked and delivered. Another LoM volunteer took all of Tom’s clothes to a laundry facility in Manassas, while another rearranged his furniture to make it easier for him to move around his home. The kindness displayed by community members was overwhelming. Margie also contacted the St. Katharine Drexel Mission Knights of Columbus Council #16793 who gathered a group of volunteers to do the ‘heavy lifting.’ They brought in Serve Pro to assess the home to check for safety issues.

In April 2019, volunteers from the Knights of Columbus began working on the outside of Tom’s home. In July, 27 men worked for five hours sawing tree limbs and clearing brush.

Margie contacted the Office of Veteran’s Affairs to inquire into what assistance they could provide. And Margie and Carol met with the Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired, who discussed the option of a seven-month program in Richmond at the VA Vocational Rehabilitation Center. This program can assist Tom by teaching him to better cope with the challenges of blindness, and train him to get an appropriate job given his impaired vision. And that is exactly what Tom wants, to be back at a job working with and surrounded by people.

Tom’s acceptance into the program is conditional on medical independence. Margie and the other LoM members organized various medical appointments to make sure he qualified, which centered around sleep studies and his use of a CPAP machine, his knee brace, and a sudden, unexpected bout with appendicitis shortly before the paperwork was complete. Now healthy, Tom is currently in the final stage of approval for the program, and is hopeful to begin soon.

Finally, in addition to Tom’s own immediate medical needs, Margie and the LoM were able to arrange for Tom’s wife to be moved to a closer facility in Warrenton, making it easier for him to visit her.

Tom has re-joined the church and now attends St. Katharine Drexel Mission in Haymarket. Margie’s husband, a member of the Knights of Columbus, regularly drives Tom to Mass now, and he joins in the parish men’s choir practice. “Tom is a very social person who has maintained his sense of humor the entire time. He has a lot of gratitude, and is very glad to be involved in the community again and not so isolated.” Margie said.

“Tom is a delightful person. We wondered for many months after meeting him, ‘How many Toms are out there who are being overlooked and need help?” Carla said.

“When you walk past a person or greet someone, know that there is a story there. By simply asking, ‘What can I do for you? Is there anything you need?’ you might be able to help. And the need may be simple, such as opening the mail,” Margie said.

From a fateful drive on Christmas morning, one person began a movement in our community. Over the past 11 months, nearly 60 people have volunteered their time, resources, food, and services to help a neighbor in need. “This is a great example of what is happening in our community,” said Father Murphy.

“It has been wonderful. It really restores your faith in humanity when you see how much good people will do. I can’t thank them enough. They’ve changed my life,” Tom said.

Frannie Barnes
About Frannie Barnes 28 Articles
Frannie Barnes is a content writer and editor, and the owner of ForWord Communication. She lives in Gainesville with her husband, three active kids, cat, and dog. To contact Frannie, you can e-mail her at franniebarnes@forwordcommunication.com.

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