Paula Ruggiero, 47, and Nancy Daniels, 49, share a holiday wish: to continue living in their childhood home in Westchester.
The sisters, who are both developmentally disabled, get by on Social Security and the modest sums they earn at sheltered workshops.
Managed by a family friend, the $50,000 in life insurance their father left when he died in 2003 goes mainly to pay the $2,900 in annual property taxes. (Their mother died in 1992.) There is only enough money left for about three more years, so the sisters would appreciate financial help to stay in their home.
“I know that there are rats [in the roof] because I can hear them crawling,” Ruggiero says as she walks down the hall.
Paint is flaking off the white, three-bedroom home with yellow trim, and neighbors have called it an eyesore, says Wendy Wills, 46, the friend and former neighbor who handles the insurance money and helps the sisters in many other ways.
Termite droppings line the walls of one bedroom, and the trim on every doorway is speckled with termite holes.
“If we don’t get [the termites] taken care of, there won’t be a house to take care of,” says Sherri Kelly, social services coordinator at United Cerebral Palsy of Miami, who nominated Daniels for the Miami Herald Wish Book.
Exterior paint and termite tenting aren’t the only things the house needs. A quick look around reveals an outlet popping out of a wall, paint peeling from the ceiling, a doll hanging where a light fixture should be and a bucket in the kitchen sink because the pipes have clogged.
Daniels attends United Cerebral Palsy’s adult day program, where she sorts hangers for infants’ clothing.
“Now that I got the baby hangers right, I like it because I’m getting better and I’m improving myself,” she says.
The program is where she met her boyfriend, Timmy, “a very special man,” she says. “He’s very, very sweet and he works hard over there.”
Ruggiero has worked for 18 years at Goodwill Industries of Florida.
“I help in the sewing process, and when the big bosses come around I demonstrate to visitors,” she says.
Wills, whose mother lives next door to the sisters, considers them family. She pays their cellphone bills and a few months ago she and her husband replaced their broken refrigerator “because the money that’s left in their account just can’t be touched,” she says.
If Miami Herald readers help the sisters, Wills acknowledges that it would also help her family.
“I hate to say it, but it’s true. Mentally, it would take a lot of stress off,” she says. “They need a better quality of life and we can’t give them that without the funds.”
As it is, there is no money for extras. The last time the sisters went to the movies, a favorite pastime, was more than a year ago, when a friend treated them.
The sisters enjoy sitting outside their front door in two plastic chairs, but they have a nice backyard that, if furnished, could be useful too.
“Can we have a screened-in porch?” Daniels asks.
“With some single men out there, too?” her sister adds.