Paying it forward
By J. Chambless
Kate and John Fecile.
By John Chambless
On Feb. 7, 2011, Kate and John Fecile
got the news no parent wants to hear.
Their son, Michael, had been critically injured in a fall from the balcony of his fourth-floor apartment at Penn State University. In the dizzying weeks that followed, and the long four years they cared for Michael at home, the Fecile family experienced how the strength of a community can bring light into the darkest situation. And now the Feciles want to give back.
The fall put Michael in the hospital for seven months, and his traumatic brain injury left him unable to move voluntarily or communicate. But John and Kate were determined to bring him home to their townhome in Garnet Valley. In 2011, Michael was a sophomore at Penn State, pursuing a degree in psychology, and working as a student equipment manager at the college in hopes of an eventual future as a football coach. He had been a standout football player at Garnet Valley High School before going to Penn State, but realized that he was likely too small to play professional ball.
After a 30-year career in the insurance industry, John knew the ins and outs of the bewildering mountain of paperwork, “and our insurance covered a lot of it,” he said during an interview at the Fecile home last week. “But we met our family out-of-pocket expense every year that Mike was home. And the insurance money ran out three weeks after we brought him home.”
The Feciles have no estimate of the total cost of Michael's care, just as they have no way of counting how many people came to the family's aid.
“I need to give credit to Rodney Richards,” John said. “He was the president of the Garnet Valley Soccer Club, and he's also a dear friend. We were in the ICU in Altoona, the day after the fall, and Rodney called and said, 'I don't know what you need, but is it OK if I get started?' That was where things got rolling.”
An Independence Living Grant from the state of Pennsylvania paid for Michael's clinical aides and private duty nurses at home, but he required 24-hour care. In addition to John and Kate and their four other children, there was an army of volunteer workers, John said. United Cerebral Palsy of Chester County helped administer a grant. A foundation formed in Michael's name raised funds to install a stair lift in the townhome and convert rooms for wheelchair accessibility, paid for some medical supplies, a handicapped-accessible van and other supplies.
“We simply couldn't have done it without the community,” Kate said.
“We had volunteers three nights a week for for years,” John said. Families would drop off meals so often that there was too much to possibly eat. People helped with Michael's physical and speech therapy. Nursing students came by to work with him. Mike Longo, who works with peer counseling at Garnet Valley High School, organized a group of teens to read to Michael. The community held fundraisers, and Valley Point Church adopted the family one Christmas for as large financial donation.
“A lot of these were people we kinda, sorta knew,” John said, smiling. “But a lot of them we never even knew. How do you pay that back? You can't. I don't even know some of their names. … In a really difficult time, it was a constant reminder of people's generosity, and the blessings of God.”
Through it all, Kate worked at Mirmont Treatment Center as an admissions representative. The job, as part of the Main Line Health organization, kept the family's benefits going and provided a steady income. She has worked there for 11 years, helping families with drug and alcohol recovery. “We're kind of the crisis center that deals with the families,” she said. Her own home situation, however, often offered no respite from the stresses of her day job.
While John maintained his job in insurance with generous time allowances to care for Michael, the Feciles lost their son on May 2, 2015 when he passed away at home.
“Six months after Michael passed, I broke,” John said quietly. “I needed some counseling and help. I took a short-term disability leave from the company I was with. While I was on leave, I knew that I did not want to go back to insurance. I was contacted by a franchise consultant who thought I would do great as a small business owner. Eventually, I settled on CertaPro.”
The Pennsylvania-based company hires owners to run their own franchises.
“It was service-oriented and customer focused,” John said. “It did not require that I purchase retail space. All the people I met at CertaPro were wonderful. And the company has an online university with development tracks for everybody as I hire more people. Everybody has a way to grow in the business.”
With his managerial experience and his knack for numbers and maintaining business contacts, John knew he could handle the job of overseeing a small company.
“Once Kate and I both talked and did a lot of research, she was convinced, too,” he said, smiling. Kate remains a part owner of the business, but John is the full-time face of the enterprise.
John started the CertaPro training, and his region is now the western Chester County area – Parkesburg, Atglen, Avondale, Coatesville, Cochranville, Honey Brook, Landenberg, Lincoln University, Nottingham, Oxford, Toughkenamon and West Grove. The company has taught him the ins and outs of painting, as well as managing a team of independent contractors who do indoor and outdoor painting in the region.
“The goal in starting the company was to pay off our mortgage and become debt-free, help our children manage their college debt, and the third goal is to use Michael's foundation and the money from the business to do good works,” John explained.
The foundation, which is still active, initially went toward supporting the family. Now, the Feciles want to turn it outward, to benefit others. “We want to build a memorial fund for Michael to help other young people who are interested in pursuing coaching football at the highest level,” John said. “The Garnet Valley football team Coach's Award has been renamed in Michael's honor, and we would like to attach a monetary award to that, to help young men prepare for college and pay for some of their early expenses. We'd also like to create a scholarship for one of the student managers for the Penn State football team to pursue coaching when they graduate. The work of the foundation is to honor Michael's memory and help young people.”
The Fecile home is up for sale. “There's a lot of stuff here we don't need to remember,” John said quietly. A relocation to Delaware is possible, but the CertaPro business, which has an office in Parkesburg, is a long-term commitment.
As part of his new venture, John is helping area charities, such as Home of the Sparrow in Coatesville, which houses older women at risk of homelessness. His company handed some interior painting that volunteers could not get done correctly, and he did the job at cost. “It was only my second week in business,” he said. “I hadn't planned on starting so soon, but I was attracted to their mission. It resonated with me.”
The CertaPro company also has an ongoing partnership with Home For Our Troops, a national organization that works on homes for returning veterans. And John is looking forward to possibly working with Good Works, a Kennett Square-based organization that rehabilitates homes for low-income families in Chester County.
“We want to use this new business as a way to heal our family,” John said, smiling. “And to pay forward all the kindness, of literally hundreds of people, for so many years.”
For information, call 484-283-5003 or 1-800-462-3782, or visit www.western-chester-county.certapro.com.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.