Jennifer Allen has posted in community groups before, with little requests here and there for her adult son, Evan, who lives in a small, private group home that she helps manage.
Evan Dion, 26, is severely autistic, Allen said, but otherwise healthy and very loved.
Just last week, Allen was inspired to post on social media about her son's roommate, a man named Jason Caudill who has lived at the home for about four months.
“He is paralyzed from the waist down and confined to his bed,” Allen wrote in a Facebook group for residents of a city in Metro Detroit. “He is in his early 40s. Until we somehow connected with him, he spent (six) years both abused and neglected. And lonely. He was at a party in Royal Oak, with friends, and the balcony collapsed, causing the paralysis. He had no support so he has been lost in the system since he left the hospital in a wheelchair.
“Jason suffered (neurological) damage but retained his intelligence. He loves to chat about history, tell jokes and play chess.”
Allen’s Facebook post went on to ask for two things. First, she wondered if anyone had an iPad or tablet that she could buy for Caudill, as he hadn’t used the internet since the accident, but liked the idea of it.
“He got pretty excited when I found a dating site for those with physical disabilities in the area,” Allen wrote. “He wants to read the news. Maybe he can join Facebook.”
And second, she had this unique request.
“If anyone ever has time, he could use a friend or someone to chat with -- play chess with or watch a movie. That is a lot to ask, but I am throwing it out there. We have three sons, a group home, and work full time. I feel guilty every time I leave.”
And this is the part that will make you reach for the tissues: Who knew people could be so good?
At last check, the post had garnered more than 165 comments, all from people wanting to donate electronics to Caudill, come hang out with him or offer up other creative and helpful ideas.
It's an outpouring of support for a man none of these people have ever met. They just see that he could use some help right now. And apparently that's all they needed to know.
Group member Daniel Lopez was one of the first to comment, saying: “I have a 10-inch Amazon Fire tablet he can have. I hardly ever use it. It's in great shape. … I would be happy to show you or him how to use it if you aren't familiar with (it)."
In the thread that followed, Allen insisted she pay for the tablet, to which Lopez responded, “Free or you can't have it” with a winking emoji.
In a Facebook message, Lopez said in so many words that it was no big deal.
“Donating a tablet was the least I could do,” he wrote.
Allen said she went over and met Lopez in person when she picked up the tablet. He's relatively new to the area, Allen added, saying she was touched by the gesture.
“Now I’ve made a friend of my own, too,” Allen said. “And I’m going to introduce them to people more their age. The web of support for these men keeps getting wider. It lets me rest easier, knowing it’s not all on my back.”
Allen takes on some of the work herself, as it's important to her that the other caretakers earn a livable wage and she's not running them ragged.
Another woman, Sonnet Grace Woolf, came over to the house for a game of chess after she saw the Facebook post.
“I really, really enjoyed my visit with Jason today,” Woolf commented after the visit had ended. “He is so easy to talk to and very sweet. … Jason actually helped me beat him by giving me a few tips early on in the game, but he said I was going to be on my own next time!
“It breaks my heart that anyone so sweet has to feel lonely. I saw how much 90 minutes of my day meant to him and it warmed my heart. I am kinda new to this area and don’t have a lot of friends either, so I was so glad to make one.”
Allen said even though she’s put out similar posts in the past for her son, she was overwhelmed by the responses that poured in over the past week.
“There are a lot of goodhearted people. … This was just the right moment or something," she said. "It's amazing."
In our conversation, we were remarking, who even knows what these Royal Oak community members have in common otherwise? It’s unlikely that they’d agree on politics or a number of any other issues.
“But across the board, people want to help these two men who are so vulnerable,” Allen said.
And while Dion has a lot of support -- he’s cognitively impaired, doesn’t speak and in many ways, is similar to a baby, Allen said -- he’s visited often and well cared for. Caudill, on the other hand, is a little different.
He doesn’t have any family around, and he’s been on his own since the accident, Allen said.
Caudill has anxiety and abandonment issues. His door must stay open, his light stays on and he calls out often in fear, according to Allen.
Caudill was actually pretty apprehensive about his first visit.
“He had excitement and anxiety,” Allen said. “He thought he wasn’t the kind of person people would visit. I think staffers had told him that, or he thought his life was over. He thought he’d never have a girlfriend. So it was hard for him to process that anyone would visit. A couple came over and said they’d come every Sunday. That really changed his perspective. Now he’s excited to see who can come over next.”
While Dion just likes to be near people he knows and wouldn’t be as comfortable with the visitors, Caudill wants a social life.
“You can’t meet him and NOT see how cool he is to talk to. It’s not just charity. He’s a really good guy,” Allen said. “He deserves to have friends, he just needs access to them.”
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At last check, people in the Facebook group were offering all sorts of things: ideas on classes and programs for Caudill, in-home haircuts and dog visits, to name a few.
"Where is he at?" one woman posted. "I am a single busy mother but I have a disabled brother so my heart has enough room to make some time for him. Thank you so much for reaching out for him."
Others were just impressed by the compassion, giving and sense of community in the group. It really was moving to see the responses and comments add up.
If you have any ideas for Caudill, drop them below, and we’ll pass them along to Allen. Until then, consider doing something kind today. You never know who could use it the most.
Update: Caudill sent Woolf a text message, saying three more people have come to visit, thanks to Allen's Facebook post, Woolf said.
“ ... (It's) been fun," he wrote, according to Woolf. "I am not alone."
Woolf said she almost cried when she read that.
She added that she sings in an a cappella group with four women, and they're going to go sing for Caudill the next time they rehearse in town.
"I know he will love that," she said.
Editor's note: Allen's original Facebook post to the Facebook group said Caudill spent 15 years abused and neglected. Allen later clarified that the accident took place six years ago. The story has been updated to reflect that.
Graham Media Group 2019