There won’t be any TV stars or national media around when the Sue Spece family enters their new home in Independence, Iowa. There won’t be a giant bus, and the crowds, if any, will be modest. What there will be is a group of thoughtful, hard-working small-town Iowans who have made a real difference in the lives of their neighbors.
When the Spece family was nominated for inclusion in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition television show in November 2009, friends and neighbors thought they had an excellent chance. Sue Spece’s three adult children live at home, and all are wheelchair-bound due to a form of muscular dystrophy called spinal muscular atrophy.
In spite of their handicaps (only one can lift her arms to feed herself), all three of the Spece children have earned college degrees, and each owns and operates a small business. Josh is a hosta expert and runs a garden shop with his mother. Jacob works with dairy cattle. And Jackie runs, of all things, a dance studio.
Times have always been tough for the Speces, yet they routinely volunteer for community projects and charity events. Their efforts have never gone unnoticed in the salt-of-the-earth agricultural community of Independence (population almost 6,000), and inspired neighbors led the effort to get them a new home through Extreme Makeover.
When the show announced plans for an October 2011 build in Iowa, the Spece’s friends and neighbors were even more hopeful. But when they learned a different family would be featured, the Independence community turned to itself for support. A new community group formed around “Building a Dream in the Country: A New Home for the Spece Family.” And in January, 2012, they told Sue Spece (at a special event in the local pizza parlor) that as soon as they raised $200,000 her family would have a new home.
This was great news for Sue, as she is still her children’s caregiver and the Spece home is not fully accessible. The halls are too narrow for adult-size wheelchairs, and there is no lift system, so Sue manually transports her kids to their chairs, to the bathroom, and to the front door. There is no garage, so in the harsh Iowa winters Sue has to shovel three levels of wheelchair ramp and clear a gravel driveway with no cover from wind, snow and ice. And there’s no place to go during tornado warnings.
As soon as the “Building a Dream” announcement was made, neighbors lined up to support the Speces. Groups, clubs and individuals throughout the region came forward to help, with countless fish dinners, pork sandwiches, silent auctions, poker runs and craft sales. The effort spread wider through networks of folks as diverse as cake decorators and hosta growers, all contributing what cash and expertise they could.
In a year, “Building a Dream in the Country” had raised a remarkable $92,000 of their goal. As of October, 2013, more than $140,000 had been contributed – all in the midst of a tough economy and crop-killing drought.
Nearly every donation has been very small. With such a pinpoint goal and local focus, “Building a Dream” does not have tax-exempt status. Every member of the committee works without compensation, and in spite of repeated requests, the group has received little attention from elected officials. It is a bootstrap, grassroots, neighborly campaign that brings out the best of what it is to be an American.
With totals so close to the ultimate goal, “Building a Dream” has ordered a custom-designed manufactured home for the Speces, which includes a state-of-the-art lift system and a safe room for the inevitable weather emergencies. Local contractors and workers have volunteered time and equipment to dig the basement, install a septic system, lay the foundation and much more. The Speces may not be in their safe new home by winter 2013, as “Building a Dream” had hoped, but it will happen soon.
The group has an active Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BuildingaDreamintheCountry and their own website is www.buildingadreaminthecountry.com. Donations will continue to be accepted even after the goal is reached to help the Spece family with property taxes and home maintenance.