Put in simplest terms, Mike and Stacey Edwards have been collecting countless aluminum cans to help give their two teenage sons a little more elbow room.
For a couple years, the Edwards family has been aiming to build a new home in western Independence, as their current west-side home of 15 years has no more room for practical renovations or additions.
Both sons, 16-year-old Hunter and 13-year-old Cody, were born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 2, a recessive gene disorder that affects voluntary muscle strength. They use powered wheelchairs to get around, and now no amount of cheer can mask their need for more interior room to maneuver.
The Edwards bought an acre lot two years ago, and the year before they'd raised enough to buy a special van to best tote the boys around.
To help cull together enough for a down payment on a customized, wheelchair-accessible home without breaking the bank, the Edwards started collecting aluminum cans for recycling.
Yes, it's something many families have done and still do in their own home, but Mike and Stacey set a larger goal – 20,000 pounds. They estimated it would net $8,000 to $10,000. After learning of their collection effort, Advantage Metals gave them a guaranteed rate and also accepts can dropoffs from others who wish to donate their returns to the Edwards' drive.
“I thought that was a little crazy,” Cody said, clearly delighting in the chance to share his recollection. “I didn't think they'd ever get to 20,000.”
But prior to last weekend's roundup, the Edwards had cashed in more than 16,300 pounds of cans – more than 80 percent of their goal.
“We're looking good to start building next spring,” Stacey says.
Mike, a Colorado native, and Stacey, originally from Iowa, met through a bowling league in Laramie, Wyoming, after she'd moved there for a teaching job. When Hunter was born, they noticed after several months that he wasn't taking the normal steps for using his muscles, such as completely rolling over or crawling. At 14 months, a blood test confirmed the diagnosis. Looking back, Stacey said, they knew something was different when he didn't bounce on their laps.
Thanks to Mike's work promotion, the family had a chance to move to the Kansas City area in 2005. The lower elevation proved better for Hunter's health, and they were a short jaunt from a children's hospital as opposed to two hours from Denver. Stacey said they looked at about 100 houses before they picked their current abode in part because it could accommodate some ramps.
“We knew wheelchairs were in the future,” she said.
When Stacey became pregnant with Cody, they knew there was a 25 percent chance he would have SMA, but they declined to have a pre-birth test.
“We already had Hunter, so knew how to handle it if Cody had it,” she said.
Cody came after the move, and over the years the Edwards has remodeled the house as much as possible. They converted the former kitchen into a larger bathroom and another space into a living room. But they have to take turns maneuvering around that room, and the bedroom isn't large enough for both beds and chairs.
Besides feeding tubes and reliancy on wheelchairs, the boys also had to have straightening rods inserted into their backs to combat scoliosis – curvature of the spine that often accompanies SMA – and combined they've had 18 surgeries to lengthen those rods as they grow.
“We're hoping it's to the point now where they won't have to have anymore surgeries,” Stacey said.
Even something often overlooked like heeding a tornado siren becomes a task.
An elevator isn't practical in their house, so to get to that safe room in the basement, the boys go out front, around and down the driveway into the garage on the backside of the house – many times through the rain – and then through the garage.
Their current home is 1,200 square feet, and the Edwards plan to build for about 3,000 square feet – plenty of floor space where necessary but with no frills, Stacey is quick to add.
“No granite, no marble, no fireplace, no wall-to-wall tile,” she said.
Every bit helps
From growing up in Iowa, Stacey fondly remembers the state's bottle deposit program. Pay a five-cent deposit for a beverage container; get it back when you return empty bottles and cans. The recycling habit she developed then simply continued, even if such a program didn't exist locally.
She and Mike thought, perhaps they could collect cans from people who might otherwise throw them out, then save up what they redeemed. As the boys grew and their health costs remained a constant source of concern, the parents have been serious money crunchers and found different ways to supplement their income. Garage sales from donated items; popcorn sales at craft shows and similar venues (Stacey estimates they've sold about 10,000 bags of popcorn over the years); and now cans.
Social media helps spread the word about their efforts, and Mike, whose job frequently takes him out of town on weekdays, will collect from homes in the area and and take dropoffs at the house. About once a month they'll take their stash in to Advantage.
How did they arrive at a 20,000-pound goal?
“We'd checked the numbers,” Stacey said. “What's a good money goal, and what's a nice round number. We knew what a van load is.”
Their van can hold about 200 pounds of uncrushed cans and 500 pounds of crushed cans.
While their parents chip away at that goal, Cody and Hunter have kept up with their studies. Stacey homeschools Cody, who is in junior high and enjoys social studies the most. Hunter takes high school classes online and tends to enjoy science the most, and he's taken an interest in computer programming.
Mike and Stacey take the boys out of the house plenty, but a school building presents too many health risks.
When the new house is ready, they'll be just as anxious as Mom and Dad.
“They're excited to have a room with space to stop and play,” Stacey said.
Adds Cody, “That'll be nice.”