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An extreme porch makeover

Five-year-old Mitchell McCarthy loves spending time at his grandparents' hobby farm. Whether it's being around the horses, riding the tractor or ATV, or having bonfires outside, Mitchell's mom, Rachel McCarthy, said she sometimes has trouble getting him to leave.

And if Mitchell liked it before, he'll love it there in about a month.

When a storm swept through Hastings and the surrounding area July 10, it hit Jerry and Terri McCarthy's home and farm pretty hard. They lost about 30 trees on their six-acre property. One tree fell and crushed a deck, pulling it off the side of the house. All told, the damage to the property totaled almost $100,000.

Jerry, Mitchell's grandfather, had an idea for how he wanted to rebuild the deck. His main goal was to incorporate a ramp so Mitchell, who's been in a wheelchair since he was three, could get in and out of the house and around the property by himself.

Mitchell has cerebellar atrophy, a progressive disorder that is causing his cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls motor functions and speech, to shrink.

The three words Mitchell does say are "Mama," "Nana" and "Papa." Otherwise, he communicates using sign language. He also has a "talking board" that he uses in his kindergarten class, that has different phrases on it like, "I want," and things like "food" or "to go to the bathroom."

The disability doesn't effect the learning or thinking parts of his brain, and Rachel said he's very smart for his age. He'll turn 6 in a couple weeks and is about what you'd expect from a 6-year-old boy. Rachel said he loves big trucks and tractors.

"Basically, anything that's loud," she said.

When watching Jerry's three horses walk around in their pen, which is one of Mitchell's favorite activities, he responds to the horses' snorts and neighs with his own impressions of the sounds, and laughs out loud.

"That's Mitchell's delight," Jerry said. "He just can't get enough of them."

Mitchell keeps a pair of work boots at his grandparents' house and helps Jerry clean up the horse pen when he's there. He also likes to ride around on Jerry's lap on the tractor and ATV.

"It doesn't matter about his disability; he's a typical boy," Rachel said.

To give Mitchell even greater independence and mobility around their house, the construction plan also includes building a walkway from the deck and patio down to the horse pen.

Enter Paul Meyers from Frandrup Masonry. When Jerry was explaining his idea for the ramp to Meyers, something clicked.

"Paul immediately just kind of jumped on it and said, 'I've got something for you,'" Jerry said.

Meyers drew up plans for a stone patio and a ramp that would connect it to the new deck. The deck is being built by Hastings' Gir-Mac Construction.

The stone patio will include a grill built into a low wall and a standing fireplace Jerry picked out at Haley Comfort Systems.

The best part? Frandrup Masonry is only charging Jerry for the materials and doing the rest at its own expense. Meyers said it was something he wanted to do to "help out a neighbor."

"It was something nice we could do for him to help him out a little bit," Meyers said. "He had a lot of storm damage."

Jerry said Meyers insisted on doing the patio for next to no charge.

"They just went above and beyond what's expected," Jerry said.

When the project is complete, Jerry and Mitchell will be able to enjoy bonfires outside together, and Mitchell will be able to move around more freely.

"He'll be able to get from the house, to the deck, to the ramp, to the patio by himself," Jerry said proudly.