Coming together: Community unites to help paralyzed football player

Published: Monday, Nov. 7 2011 11:54 p.m. MST

Community and family members work on a home for the Porter Hancock family. Hancock was paralyzed while playing football for South Summit High School on Oct. 7, 2011.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

OAKLEY, Summit County — From the tiny mountain town of Oakley, the word is spreading: People are building a house for a local boy who was hurt on the football field, and the only two things they don't want for their efforts are money and recognition.

Neighbors showed up yesterday at 6:30 in the morning and braved freezing temperatures to pull back insulation blankets and prepare the job site for the skilled workers.

About 40 teammates, classmates and people from the community responded when the call went out last week seeking help to clean up the job site.

Friday, four different plumbing contractors — all business rivals — worked side by side to plumb the house.

Excavators, framers, carpenters, concrete laborers, architects and many more have shown up daily to donate their labor, using materials provided by supply companies.

"It's pretty heartwarming," says longtime contractor Steve Neff.

The other day a man came by who was walking his dog. "What can I do to help?" he asked.

"The response has been unbelievable," says Kent Woolstenhulme, another of the workers and a cousin to the injured boy's mother. "Almost everyone you talk to wants to help."

The idea began not long after Porter Hancock was injured while making a tackle for the South Summit High football team on Oct. 7. He is paralyzed from mid-chest down. There is reason to hope that he will regain the use of his lower limbs, but at the very least he faces a long road to recovery.

Family members and neighbors realized the Hancocks' home would not be suitable for a kid in a wheelchair, with its narrow doorways and halls and its split entry and steep stairs. The phone calls began. This is a community of contractors, men who make a living in construction. They rallied to help.

About two weeks ago, they began building a house on property owned by Hancock's grandfather. They plan to have the new house ready by the time Porter leaves the hospital, which is scheduled for mid-December.

"It's what life's all about, helping people in need," says carpenter Ray Peterson.

The foundation is complete. The walls and the headers for the windows and doors are being pre-built in a shop. If all goes according to schedule, workers will raise the exterior walls on the foundation Wednesday, build the interior walls on Thursday, the trusses on Friday and the roof on Friday or Saturday.

Before the house is finished, about 100 skilled laborers will have contributed to the project, and their only payment will be the gratitude of a family. These are men who work in an industry that is among the hardest hit by the poor economy. They have their own problems finding work and making a living. But they're here.

"Some who are struggling the most are helping the most," says one worker, whose own company has been forced to cut its workforce in half. "These people aren't helping from positions of financial security. They're helping out in very difficult times and some are struggling."

They could use a payday, but they're donating their time for the cause. They could use the advertisement, but they get nervous when the cameras come around. When a local TV station showed up, one of the workers politely asked them not to take pictures of his truck, which featured his name and business logo.

"We don't want any recognition," he says. "We're proud to be involved. We want to do the right thing for the right reasons. Please keep my name in the shadows. I'm just one of 20 or 30 cogs in the wheel here."

Andy Woolstenhulme, another volunteer, who is also Porter's uncle, says: "Everyone will tell you they don't want their name or company mentioned. There are no ulterior motives."

The workers all share this feeling, but they know recognition could bring in donations and help. "About 80 percent of it is donated labor and material," says," says Kent Woolstenhulme. "There are a few things we are still working on — we're working on short notice." (Donations can be made through Zions Bank.)

The offers keep coming. A Park City restaurant called Bandits donated Saturday's proceeds to the family. Raffles and bake sales and other fundraisers have been held around the state.

"You hear about how lousy things are and about all the bad people in the world," says Neff. "It's been neat to see people come forward with generosity and kindness for no remuneration." He pauses a moment before adding, "It's been a good thing. These are just good people — the same kind of people who are everywhere."

Email: drob@desnews.com

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