By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — For Goshen’s Scott and Lori Roth, the pain of losing their only son to suicide was almost too much to bear. Determined not to let the experience destroy them, the couple vowed to use the lessons taught to them by that experience to make a positive impact in their community. And now, four years later, they’re making good on that promise.
Back in 2009, the couple’s 22-year-old son, Ben, took his own life just months after revealing to them that at age 3 he had been physically abused and had been struggling with the physical and psychological trauma of that event ever since.
“Honestly, I can’t even remember the first year after he passed away,” Scott Roth said of the dark days that followed his son’s death. “You always hear that the worst thing that can happen to you as a parent is to lose a child, and I can say that’s really true. At that point, my wife and I came to a point in our lives where we almost thought it was going to destroy us. But we didn’t want that to happen. Ben was an absolutely fantastic, wonderful young man, and we knew he wouldn’t want that for us, so we chose to recover instead.”
As part of that recovery, this month the Roths will be opening The Little House that Ben Built, a transitional home acquired through a collaborative partnership with LaCasa Inc. that will provide area families recovering from abusive situations with a safe and comfortable space to get back on their feet and regain control over their lives.
“I have helped out with LaCasa for probably 10 to 15 years, and Ben helped with the annual LaCasa Help-A-House event several times,” Roth said of the area non-profit which specializes in providing quality, affordable housing to low-income families. “A little over a year ago, we had a meeting with LaCasa, and they were talking about the need for places for women and children recovering from abuse. So I went home and talked to my wife, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we could do a house like that in Ben’s memory?’ And she was immediately on board. So I turned right around and talked to (LaCasa Executive Director) Larry Gautsche and (LaCasa Vice President of Development) Bonnie Martin, and they basically just asked me, ‘How can we help?’ So that’s really how this all started.”
With the decision to pursue their plan settled, LaCasa began the search for a home that might work. Not long after, a home was identified at 1404 S. Main St., Goshen, that LaCasa had acquired several years earlier after a fire destroyed most of the interior.
“When we first started this in January, the house had four walls and pretty much nothing else,” Roth said. “There was no furnace, no plumbing, no walls, no electricity... nothing. It didn’t even have a floor on the second level. After the fire, I think it sat empty for two or three years, and then LaCasa acquired it with the goal of rehabbing it at some point.”
Once the home was found, it was then time to get word out to the public of the group’s need for financial and volunteer assistance — something Roth said was a bit outside of his comfort zone.
“Really, we started by just talking to friends,” Roth said. “Actually, when we decided to attempt this, we invited people to a breakfast at the Essenhaus, and we really didn’t know what we would have as far as turnout. But over 100 people showed up, which kind of blew our minds. It was that day that really got us excited, because we knew that people really wanted to see this happen.”
Since initial word of the project reached the public, volunteers and donations have been pouring in steadily, whether it be local businesses donating labor and construction supplies or groups of community volunteers showing up to lend a hand where needed. Today, the home stands nearly unrecognizable, sporting three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a detached garage and pretty much new everything.
Feels like home
When all is said and done, Roth said, he and his wife have a vision of a home that is cozy, inviting and move-in ready, requiring little to no effort on the family’s part to get settled in and feel at home.
“We’re still in need of a few things right now, as far as things like a stove, microwave, furniture, etc. But it’s going to happen,” Roth said. “My wife’s in charge of the interior design, and her vision for when a mom comes in here is that she can just walk in, open the closet, put her clothes away, crawl into bed, and feel like she’s at home, and that her kids are in a good, clean, safe environment. Goshen really is a wonderful town, so that’s what we’re attempting to make happen here.”
According to Roth, the current plan is to house just one family at a time within the home in order to provide the most comfortable and healing environment possible. The average stay of each family, he said, will likely be around eight months.
In addition to the housing, The Little House will also provide several additional services for its clients such as a professional resumé writer, doctor and dentist who have all offered to donate their services to the organization.
“We realize that not every situation will work, but there’s just so much need out there,” Roth said, noting that LaCasa has already secured a partnership with the Elkhart Women’s Shelter as a feeder for potential families. “We want this to be a reprieve for them to concentrate on themselves and what they need to do to get back into society. My son, even at a young age, loved to see people successful, so we want to make sure that these situations are successful too.”
In order to introduce The Little House that Ben Built to the public, a house dedication has been scheduled for June 22 at 2 p.m.
Following the house dedication, a special fundraising concert featuring the Chicagoland Pops Symphony will be held at Goshen College beginning at 6 p.m. All proceeds from the sale of the tickets will be used to help sustain the home in the future.
“We have tickets for sale for that right now,” Roth said. “It’s going to be a fantastic concert.”
Tickets for the show can be purchased at the organization’s website, www.benslittlehouse.org, or by calling 1-888-978-6596. Cost for the tickets is $30.