In December, 2018. he helped do a remodel for Enrique DeJesus, a colonel in the Army. DeJesus and his wife Yvonne told him how they did this retro fit for their parents so they could get around easier.
“Then he asked, ‘Why don’t you do that?’,”
Donnelly remembers a big light bulb going off.
“We talked on a Saturday and I had changed my business model on a Monday,” he said. “It changed my life the moment I decided to it.”
Barrier-free homes. Universal design. These are terms most home-buyers aren’t aware of. Unless the home-buyers have a disability and are using a cane, walker or are in a wheelchair.
A total of 61 million people have a disability in the United States, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. That’s one in four adults.
While Donnelly found a business niche in an area that desperately needs it, he saw it as much more than that.
Donnelly wanted to give persons with disabilities a home where they could easily get through the front door and bathroom and put their food in the microwave or reach in the cupboard for a plate or glass without struggling in a wheelchair.
Then he thought, would other people be interested in being partners in helping those with disabilities? Could he develop a non-profit focused on this?
And what he holds in his hands is something he had sought for a long time – the chance to make a difference.
“I call it selfish unselfishness,” he said. “To finish with a flourish.
Participation in the GPS Life Journey in early 2021, facilitated by Founder and Author, Nolen Rollins, solidified my life purpose and helped me develop a specific strategy to move forward in leaving my legacy.
“Other than when I was a kid and grew up as an altar boy and wanted world peace did I have this same feeling.”
Ileana Hamel, who works with Donnelly on helping persons with disabilities get accessible homes, said their visions are exactly the same.
“We clicked when we met,” she said. “His goals and ambitions are a lot like mine. We want a better life for people.”
When Hamel says that, she doesn’t mean just being able to get around the home easier.
“My idea is to make it easy with one-stop shopping,” she said. “It’s not just accessibility, it’s to create a lifestyle with wellness and inspirations and coaching. It’s hard and lonely. Friends don’t know what to say and it can get overwhelming. It’s hard to get used to. It takes a lot of energy and battling. It’s even hard shopping. There’s letdowns.”
Hamel knows this first-hand.
One day, she’s one of most successful agents for Prudential in Bonita Springs, Florida.
The next, she’s paralyzed. “I died for 7 minutes,” she said.
In 2014, a pregnant Hamel came down with pneumonia. The pain was so bad in her legs, doctors thought she had multiple sclerosis so they sent her home with antibiotics.
“My mom dropped me at the fire station and then they took me to the hospital that night because I had a burning in my belly,” she recalled. “I was in bed and when I got out and took three steps, I couldn’t feel my legs.” Hamel quickly went on life support.
Further tests revealed she had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare, autoimmune disorder in which a person's own immune system damages the nerves, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
A quadriplegic, Hamel lived in nursing homes for 4 ½ years.
Rather than get down, she feels blessed that she can now breathe and live on her own and eat regular food.
“I’m just grateful how far I’ve come and I don’t want to waste it,” she said. “Instead of looking at hardships, I look at opportunities. That’s why Mike and I work so well together.”
Donnelly sees persons with disabilities getting a raw deal, not just from their circumstances but from life itself.
“These people have been discriminated against and we have to take care of them,” he said. “The first American Disabilities Act was in the 1990s. People with prosthetic legs or amputees are seen in a negative light and are not treated as equals.”
Others share Donnelly’s view. He has partnered with approximately 30 in the construction business as well as organizations who serve those with disabilities. The goal is to get donations and in-kind gifts to lessen the costs for a remodel or newly built home.
Hamel and Donnelly have created a Summit called the Accessible Home Summit of Experts, which uses an online marketing platform to broadcast the needs of the physically and emotionally challenged. The Summit includes expert speakers, a group of like-minded individuals and businesses advocating for these folks who are so overlooked because of their situations.
“You stop and think about it – all us are in this world for an unbelievably short time,” Donnelly said. “We’re here for a purpose. When you help others, you help yourself. Actually, it is selfish because you get as much out of it as they do. But you are helping those with mobility issues have a better life.”
If you would like to share your story with the world, do let us know, we’d be delighted to shine a spotlight on you and your impact.
Mobilizing the world with you…
Nolen Rollins, Founder & President of GPS Life Journey