Good Works, community help Chesco man rebuild
The fire started with a single stray ember. Gene Sabbi had opened the door of his wood-burning stove, and the ember jumped onto a sheer curtain. Soon his love seat was in flames, too.
The fire started with a single stray ember.
Gene Sabbi had opened the door of his wood-burning stove, and the ember jumped onto a sheer curtain. Soon his love seat was in flames, too.
Smoke quickly filled his Chester County home, part of which was a log cabin that was more than two centuries old.
He tried to put out the fire but could not. He grabbed his love seat and pulled it to the nearest door. But the doorway was too small, the smoke was too thick.
With second-degree burns to his hands and face, Sabbi watched from outside as the cherished home he had lived in and built up for more than 33 years burned to the ground.
Sabbi lived alone, save for a 1-year-old Boxer puppy named Elsa. She died in the fire.
It was the day before Christmas, and he lost everything.
"I had to start all over again," said Sabbi, 76, of Sadsbury Township.
In the year since the fire, more than 300 volunteers, some from Maryland and Massachusetts, helped Sabbi rebuild his house. Local companies donated materials. Strangers helped raise about $46,500.
Sabbi plans to move in within the next few weeks, just in time for Christmas.
He could not have afforded to rebuild without help.
"It really made something that was a disaster into something that is a miracle," Lisa Bernard, 55, one of Sabbi's two children, said. "It put a light back into his heart."
Sabbi has lived with his daughter, a nurse, in her mobile home in Honey Brook since the fire. She will move into the new two-bedroom, ranch-style home with him.
The 912-square-foot house already has furniture, including one of the beds, a TV, a dining room table, a couch and some chairs. A grill and some more furniture sit on the deck. Artwork waits on the floor to be hung on pristine walls.
Sabbi's daughter plans to bring her 3-foot-tall fiber optic Christmas tree with her and wants to string up lights on the porch.
Leading the rebuilding of the new house was Good Works Inc., a Coatesville nonprofit that repairs homes for low-income Chester County residents. The group was in the middle of repairing Sabbi's roof when the fire destroyed his house.
"It certainly was overwhelming to look at the pile of rubble," said Joe Lisowski, repair supervisor at Good Works. "We're used to repairing homes, not building them."
A partner at Arcus Design Group Architects is a Good Works volunteer. The company designed the house, and its employees helped build it.
Good Works enlisted the help of teenagers, corporate employees, and others. Sabbi, who used to work in construction, labored with them. Although he is small, standing at around 5-foot-4, and he moves slower than he used to, he did a lot of the house's siding himself. He also gave pointers to the youngsters.
Matt Chiarello, a senior at Conestoga High School, shoveled dirt and rocks out of the basement with about 20 members of his Christian youth group.
"You don't see it every day, the whole community coming out to help a cause like that," Chiarello, 18, said. "It was cool to see."
Sherry Weaver, Sabbi's neighbor, said he deserves the good fortune that has come his way. He has been her handyman over the 14 years since her husband died from leukemia. He also mows her lawn and shovels her snow.
For the new house, she gave Sabbi a bed that used to belong to her parents.
"He's helped me many times," said Weaver, 60, a high school orchestra teacher in the Downingtown Area School District.
Good Works and its teams of volunteers wanted to return the favor for Sabbi.
"You see a whole different Gene from how he was [last] December and how he is now," Robert Beggs, executive director of Good Works, said. "There's just a new spring in his step."
Sometimes, Sabbi thinks about what he has lost. His collection of state quarters, pennies, and gold coins melted. The Budweiser beer mugs he collected for nearly three decades are gone, too.
He lost the Hess trucks he bought every Christmas. He picked up two every year, one for himself and one for his grandson dating back to 1989.
But he feels blessed.
"You're only a small person when it comes down to it," Sabbi said. "You don't realize how much people are willing to help you out."