One community's power Tragedy: Carroll County neighborhood's residents unite to help woman's family cope in wake of her serious accident.

July 19, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Until January, a nameless new development near Carrolltowne in southern Carroll County was a typical suburban outpost. With busy lives and far-flung commutes, residents could come and go for weeks without much more than a nod.

Not anymore.

Since January, the residents in the two-story colonials on lots that were carved from Eldersburg farmland a few years ago have turned their subdivision into an old-time neighborhood, the kind where everyone lends a hand in the face of one family's tragedy.

At the heart of this new circle of neighborliness is Karin Young, a Johns Hopkins Hospital audiologist and mother of two toddlers. Young, 33, was skiing in Colorado last winter when she slammed head-first into a tree. The impact pushed her brain to one side and back again, leaving her paralyzed and in a coma for several months.

Since then, every family in the subdivision of 50-some homes has pitched in to help. Some cooked dinner for the family for five months straight. Others built a deck. The children held a puppet show (proceeds $17). Friday night, a bingo fund-raiser was held.

"You don't see this kind of helping one another anymore," said Kathy Zambito, who moved here from California and knew the Youngs only well enough to say hello.

"We want our children to know that this is how society is supposed to be," Zambito said. "There is so much indifference today. We all really need to look at why we were put here on earth."

Karen Eakin, who lives next door to the Youngs, moved from a townhouse in Elkridge, where "the houses were close but not the neighbors."

Karin Young was still at the Sinai Hospital Brain Injury Center when help started pouring in for her husband, Scott, 34.

"I knew what Scott had ahead of him, and I knew he would not ask for help," said neighbor Wendy Haught. "We didn't give him a choice. I just said, 'Go, do,' to everyone, and everyone was great."

Using her computer to keep a schedule, Haught had neighbors make dinner for the family from Jan. 20 to June 5, when Karin came home from the hospital -- her husband insisted on cooking for her. Often the cooks didn't even know the family.

On the first of every month, Haught gave Scott a list of menus. If the Youngs had spaghetti one night, they did not dine Italian again for the next few weeks. A refrigerator magnet in the Youngs' home still holds the last menu, everything from shrimp scampi to roast beef with mashed potatoes.

Portions were generous enough for two nights and fed six or more people.

Everyone pitched in, from working moms to those who stay at home, Haught said.

"There were so many of us, we only had to do dinner about once a month," said Eakin. "We got much fancier than we do with our own families, making homemade breads and desserts."

But the help didn't end there.

Building a deck and shed

Before Karin came home from the hospital, neighbors organized what Scott called an old-fashioned barn raising -- only it was for a deck and shed.

"A dozen guys just showed up one Saturday morning and stayed all weekend," said Scott. "They said, 'We heard you wanted to build a deck,' and went to work."

Every time she sees Karin on the deck, neighbor Janet Volpe said, "I actually feel grateful that we could help. We all had plenty to do around our own houses, but this is really important. The deck looks so great, everyone is trying to copy it."

The impromptu work crew also built a shed, with gray siding to match the home. It now houses the contents of the garage, which is being converted into an accessible bedroom and bath.

An architect designed the renovation; the home's builder organized subcontractors. Longtime friends have used vacation time to help the family, doing household chores.

'A weekend project'

A handyman seems constantly available. Bob Volpe is building a laundry counter in the basement and planter boxes for the deck. "He has taken us on as a weekend project," said Scott.

With toy parties and bingo, neighbors are raising money for the garage renovation. Haught raised at least $3,000 in bingo and raffle tickets from a benefit Friday night and hopes to raise about $5,000 more. The family insurance is providing for 16 hours of therapy and a home health aide, but if Karin does not continue improving, those benefits will end. Insurance will not pay for custodial care.

"Literally every night at the hospital, we had somebody there," Scott said. "They were all good neighbors to begin with, but when this happened, they showed their inherent goodness."

Ask around the neighborhood, and nobody is quite sure why helping the Youngs has become a community project.

"Karin was so outgoing and sweet; it was as though this happened to a sister," said Laura Morin. "We are here for them and will help them in any way we can. I know we would have that kind of support from them."

'Looking out for each other'

Eakin thinks maybe it's "because we are all the same age, all with young kids. It is so inspiring that we are looking out for each other."

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