With help from Kiwanis and Arc, a Spring Hill family settles into a new home
Thursday, June 9, 2016 9:34am
Keith Maxant Sr., left, and his twin sons, Keith Jr. and Christian, gather in a bedroom where contractor Rick Kenyon, background right, and his team from Build Florida Inc. finish accessibility renovations on the family’s new home. BRENDAN FITTERER | Times
SPRING HILL — From a 300-square-foot cottage to a three-bedroom home, single dad Keith Maxant Sr. and his twin sons, one who has Down syndrome, moved last week, thanks to generous hearts at the Spring Hill Kiwanis Club, the Arc Nature Coast and other volunteers.
As the full-time caregiver for most of 10-year-old Keith Jr.'s life, a job has been out of the question for Maxant, 48, as he has nursed his son 24/7 and also provided parenting for perky and energetic twin Christian. The family of three has been living on an income of $700 a month.
Maxant's wife — the boys' mother — has been largely absent from the picture. No grandparents, aunts or uncles exist to provide help. Qualified and reliable home health care nurses have not been found.
At 7 days of age, Keith Jr. underwent open-heart surgery. Off and on for nearly three years, he ailed at All Children's Hospital, now Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, in St. Petersburg. For months, a ventilator provided him life.
Today, he breathes through a tube into his trachea, with supplemental oxygen from an attached tank.
Down syndrome, a genetic anomaly, has delayed his intellectual development, rendering him unable to talk or walk. The pudgy, good-natured youngster is almost always in a hospital bed or a wheelchair.
The tiny cottage that the family rented sufficed for a time, Maxant said. But boys do grow. Keith Jr. needed a room of his own. Christian needed space to spread his wings, expend youthful energy, pursue new interests — maybe even get a dog.
Maxant pleaded for help from various government and social service agencies. Denials and unfulfilled promises left him full of heartache and frustrated.
President Ken Kral of the 34-member Kiwanis Club of Spring Hill learned of the family's desperate needs, a project made for Kiwanis, whose worldwide mission is to serve children. Kral shared his personal vision with club members: to provide a real home for the Maxants.
Unexpectedly, Kral died Oct, 25.
Dedicating its efforts since then to achieving Kral's dream, a dozen exuberant Kiwanians on June 1 cheered the Maxants through raindrops into a spacious ranch home, nestled among lush greenery in a welcoming Spring Hill neighborhood of Northcliffe Boulevard.
Christian dashed among legs of adults, a rolled poster beneath his arm, en route to "my room." Unfurling a bold-colors-on-black Marvel comics broadsheet, he called to crowded spectators: "Where's the tape? Can I tape it on the wall?"
Maxant slowly rolled Keith Jr. down the hall in his wheelchair, maneuvering around carpenter's tools and plaster dust.
Volunteer contractor Patrick "Rick" Kenyon, owner of Build Florida Inc., apologized for the debris, explaining that he was enlarging the bedroom-to-bath doorway to 36 inches to accommodate the wheelchair.
Bed frames and box springs were stacked against the walls.
"We had a bunk bed on top of a hospital bed at the cottage," said Maxant, noting the stand-alone beds for everyone, a new crib for Keith Jr.
Kiwanis vice president-turned-president Ann Faith explained the influx of furniture. Iris Schiavone, who lived across the street, was moving to a care facility. When Schiavone heard of the new family coming from strained circumstances, she offered all her furniture.
"This house was pretty much a turnkey," Kenyon said. "The guys who sold it already had fixed it up."
"The guys spent many, many days here," interjected Norman Johnson, shouldering his way into the room and sticking his hand out to Maxant. "Norman Johnson," he said, introducing himself. "Neighbor up the street. Stopped by to welcome you. My wife's bringing muffins and cookies."
Brothers Gene and Gary Cook, Wisconsin residents, had inherited the home from their recently deceased mother. When they heard the Maxants' story, they set about to freshen the house and property.
"They were dynamite when they heard," said Faith. "They painted everything inside, cleaned the yard, fixed screens, redid the floors."
Maxant marveled: "I've got a great group of people helping me."
Alick Dean, owner of AZ Tree Services and Landscapers, paused outdoors among sawed branches and a carpet of wood chips.
"We're cleaning (branches) over the house, trimming this tree in front to get a little sun in here," Dean said.
Two helpers whacked at some dwarf palmettos and uprooted volunteer cherry laurels. "Just to help out the community and help a good cause," said Dean, who volunteered his services.
Keeping in the background was Mark Barry, who made the purchase of the house possible. Kral had brought to the table Barry, executive director of the Arc Nature Coast, an agency that serves the needs of developmentally disabled adults. Barry had access to housing funds for the disabled, a federal grant of up to $65,000 through the State Housing Initiative Partnership.
"We started looking at houses," said Kiwanian and Realtor Charlene Kenyon. "(Kenyon and Faith) looked at a lot of really dilapidated houses."
The find was the Cook house, an older but well-built, nicely maintained rancher in a shady setting, and suitable for Arc's pocketbook at $65,000.
Barry worked the grant application through the Hernando County Housing Authority and the County Commission. The funding to Arc makes the agency the landlord of the property for 15 years, after which the real estate becomes Maxant's, so long as a person with intellectual disabilities lives there, Barry explained.
Surveying the family's new environs, Maxant choked back sobs.
"We're really grateful for it," he said. "It doesn't come unappreciated."
To the assembled Kiwanians, he added, "Your organization has done more than any other."
Christian popped out of the kitchen to reveal one more wish that was about to come true.
"We're also going to get a German shepherd," the boy said.
He held up a can of dog food.
To help defray the costs of medical expenses and care for Keith Maxant Jr., an online funding account has been established at gofundme.com/keithemaxant.