Former Marine, Don Kearney, 56, used to live in his Pilot Hill home, alone but for the past two and a half years he’s been the guardian of his two small grandchildren, 3-year-old Mahender and 4-year-old Anastasia.
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“I’ve had to change my life completely,” said Kearney, “I used to be kind of a recluse but now I’m going to swim lessons, play dates and taking the kids to preschool. I’m the state preschool representative on policy for our county.”
Kearney is also the state director for Sportsmen Assisting the Nations Disabled Sportsmen.
Anastasia and Mahender have gone from being completely silent, traumatized after their parents’ arrest and imprisonment, to active, boisterous children with a lot of curiosity and skills. Mahender is fascinated by building things which Kearney indulges with a monthly kids workshop at Home Depot. Anastasia loves school and can already read and spell.
A good distraction
“We’re good for each other,” said Kearney. “I concentrate on them instead of myself and my injuries. I want them to be happy, productive people.”
Kearney was wounded in a bomb blast while serving in the Marine Corps in Lebanon in the 1970s. Shrapnel still embedded in his neck has affected his mobility over the years. His disability has become more challenging to deal with in the past two years, preventing him from being as active as he wanted to be and less able to address the maintenance issues in his home that could become hazards for little folk.
“The Don Project” is a partnership between the Military Family Support Group; Disabled American Veterans, Hangtown Chapter; the Wounded Veteran Run organization; and groups on Facebook to help Kearney with regaining mobility and providing for his grandchildren.
“We first heard about this veteran on Facebook,” said Julie Leconte, president of the Military Family Support Group in Placerville.
“Someone put out a cry for help in finding him a mobility chair and the next day, MFSG in conjunction with Disabled American Veterans, Hangtown Chapter, delivered a beautiful mobility chair to his doorstep,” she said.
More help offered
The Wounded Veteran Run organization out of Folsom got involved and purchased a hitch-mounted mobility chair lift with tie-downs and a weatherproof chair cover. As MFSG found out more about Kearney’s situation, they realized there was more they could do to help.
The mobility chair and lift have been a “godsend,” said Kearney.
“I can get around now to feed the dogs and move around the property. I used to have difficulty moving from the parking lot to children’s classrooms but the scooter and the lift have made all the difference. We have been able to play.”
Kearney’s house is small and MFSG is donating large storage bins and cleaning and organizational supplies to move his collections of hats and memorabilia out of the house to give more room.
The group also posted a list of needed items and services on its Facebook page to add to the list created by El Dorado Cares on its Facebook page and then created a crowd funding site for donation at gofundme.com/7ffgo4, which has already received more than $800 in donations.
All of it has helped. Jon Howell donated a ceiling fan; Mike Bergland of Mike’s Tile Repair donated a large dog shelter for Kearney’s three dogs to replace the one smashed by a huge fallen oak tree and the Dorcas Quilters group and Church of the Foothills made quilts for the children. Others have donated children’s clothing, furniture and bedding.
There are still needs for professional tree trimming and professional house cleaning and yard maintenance services. The oak tree on the dog kennel needs to be removed and the house needs to be painted inside and out.
The 2003 truck that Kearney uses has 270,000 miles on it. He takes his grandchildren to and from preschool every day in Georgetown.
“This is our horse,” said Kearney of the truck, “and the drive to school eats up about a third of my income in gas.”
Leconte and others are also helping Kearney with the process of adopting his grandchildren.
“There’s a lot of paperwork and home studies,” said Kearney, “and it costs $20,000-$30,000 for each child. The filing fees and investigative costs are about $5,000.
“Hundred of grandparents in the county are in the same situation as me — raising their grandchildren on a fixed income and trying to raise the money to adopt them,” said Kearney. “I’ve spoken at the state legislature twice about some of these issues.”
The childrens’ father has not been in contact since his arrest and their mother, Kearney’s daughter, has agreed to the adoption.
“They are good kids, very social and well-adjusted,” said Kearney. “They don’t know they’ve been dealt a bad hand.” Grandmother, Jean Kearney, Kearney’s ex-wife also comes up from her home in Knight’s Landing to help.
“We have groups on Facebook stepping up to meet the needs of our wish list and donors contributing to our gofundme.com site,” said Leconte. “It is really exciting to see it all coming together.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530-344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.