Strangers showed up at her house, with heavy equipment and sod, to do the giving.
Now CaraMarie Bevenour is offering her thanks — from a home with a brand-new backyard.
This time last year, with a pool that had "popped" from the ground after a storm and a longstanding code enforcement warning hanging over her head, Bevenour was barely able to think about the holidays.
The 48-year-old Melbourne resident has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. Her 8-year-old son is autistic. Life was hard enough for the single mother without worrying about how to remove or demolish and bury the damaged pool — tasks estimated to cost from $3,500 to $10,000. And the clock was running out before city code enforcement fines would kick in.
But a late summer FLORIDA TODAY story led several Brevard residents to her door with the means to remedy the situation. And Bevenour, who is on disability and is the sole provider for her son, is "so incredibly grateful."
The pool demolition and burial, work to improve drainage, and sod-laying are now complete. In weeks to come, fencing will be installed by Habitat for Humanity, along with handicap-accessible ramps.
A woman who says she can be "very cynical" is now rejoicing in the knowledge that yes, Virginia, true kindness still exists.
"There are people out there with such big hearts ... it's incredible," said Bevenour, who bought the house in the Country Club Colony subdivision after the hurricanes of 2004, when the condo she rented was red-tagged.
"I hate asking for help because I have to do it, all the time. I never want people to think I'm taking advantage of them."
None of this would have happened, Bevenour said, without three "wonderful people" who read about her situation: Joe Mayer of Bussen-Mayer Engineering Group of Merritt Island, Terry Locke, assistant vice president and manager of TD Bank's Melbourne regional office, and Bill Elliot of Gunnstruction, a demolition and excavation company on Merritt Island.
Mayer's company handled the engineering plans, while Elliott's company did the demolition and pool burial. Locke stepped in through his work with Habitat for Humanity, which will build the fence and ramps.
Mayer, an engineer, approached Bevenour first, sending her a $2,500 check and a note telling her that God had told him he needed to reach out. Bevenour didn't open the letter right away because she figured, from the address on the envelope, that it was a company wanting to bid on the job. Once she did, she called Mayer immediately.
"The story jumped off the page for me. God put it on my heart and I couldn't let it go," said Mayer of the original FLORIDA TODAY article.
"From my perspective as an engineer, it was a very solvable problem. I met Cara and started talking to her. She's a delightful woman. In my mind, it was an honor and a privilege to come alongside and help her ... I was blessed. I am blessed. I think God must have wanted me to be a piece of the puzzle and help her."
Then there was Locke, who literally showed up on Bevenour's doorstep to offer assistance after hearing about the story through Facebook — and conferred with Mayer, who was at Bevenour's house that day, too.
The two men handled everything from making sure permitting was correct to getting volunteers in to lay sod.
Elliott and Gunnstruction "did the heavy lifting," said Mayer. After the pool was buried, the backyard was reworked, sloping it away from the house instead of toward it to help solve the drainage situation that left the home flooded after Hurricane Irma.
"Mr. Mayer was very instrumental in keeping things moving, and had the resources we needed to get things done with the least amount of cost to anybody," said Locke.
Bevenour's plight spoke to Locke, too, he said.
"I just wanted to help in any way I could," he said. "It was so cool ... such a positive for Cara's son, too. After the sod was laid, I asked Cara if she minded if I took her son out and showed him how to turn the sprinklers on and off. He really hadn't been in that backyard much before and before I left, we played a little football. It was definitely moving for me."
And so, for the very first time, Matthew is able to "really play" in a backyard that was, before, too dangerous for him to enter.
"It was so emotional. He went out right away and was kicking a football, hitting a ball ... he was running around like a madman, having so much fun," Bevenour said.
This Thanksgiving, then, will have special memories attached to it forever, for a group of people connected through simple caring.
For Bevenour, those memories will include the mental image of Locke in the backyard, tossing a football with her boy. And the knowledge that no matter what time of year it is, many people still care about their neighbors — even those they've never met.
"There are good people out there," she said.
"So many good people ... I am so appreciative. It's still just so hard to believe, after a five-year nightmare."
© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved