After sewage disaster, St. George family receives home renovation through community effort

ST. GEORGE — Faced with thousands of dollars in renovations, and worried for the health of their children, Jessica Woolf and Cameron Barbata were running out of options. 

A view of the bathroom, bedroom, and hallway damaged as a result of the sewage backup, St. George, Utah, Date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jessica Woolf, St. George News

On Jan. 4, a sewer pipe connecting the family home to the city’s system was crushed under the weight of settling soil and concrete. The resulting pressure caused sewage to back up through the drain in the family’s master bathroom, spreading across the floor and into the master bedroom and the hallway.

After finding out their insurance and homeowners association would not be covering the expense, the Barbatas weren’t sure who to turn to. Yet through a chain of goodwill, their home was renovated using donated time, labor and materials from individuals and businesses in the community.

The drywall, sheetrock, flooring, vanity and shower in their master bathroom were all torn out and replaced, Woolf said. The renovations didn’t stop there, with new flooring and baseboards installed in the master bedroom and hallway as well.

“It’s like my little slice of heaven in there,” Woolf said. “It’s amazing, beautiful, and it’s beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed. It’s something you see in movies, not something that happens in reality.”

The remodeled bathroom of the Barbata home, St. George, Utah, March 22, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Organizers and contributors gathered Monday afternoon at the family’s home to celebrate the project’s completion. Woolf gave the representatives from contributing companies a piece of wall art expressing her family’s thanks.

Barbata said he was at a loss for words.

 “It’s mind-blowing to see what a community can do to step up and help somebody in need,” he said. “I can’t think of enough to give back or try to give back to them to say thank you.”

Woolf and Barbata were particularly concerned for the health of their 3-year-old daughter, Jemma. She was diagnosed with b-cell leukemia in March 2019, but Woolf said they’re hoping that she’ll reach her end of treatment in August with a clean bill of health.

The renovations began March 15 and were completed within about a week. Contributing businesses included Utah Disaster Kleenup, Knock on Wood Construction, Pioneer Floor Coverings, Canyon Kitchen and Bath, Southwest Marble and Granite, Steven Mils Cabinetry, Lowe’s and A1 Services.

It all started when Cyndy Pollmann, a family friend, heard about the family’s troubles and decided to drum up support from the community. 

“I started a fundraiser; I reached out to KONY Country and I did a Facebook page for the family,” Pollmann said. “They’ve already gone through so much in the last two years. Their daughter has cancer, they both work full-time, they have four kids, they’re homeschooling and then their house was turned upside down, so I just had to step in.”

Friends, family and local business representatives surround Jessica Woolf (center) with her children, St. George, Utah, March 22, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Once they heard about the family’s needs, Amy Chesley and Marty Lane of 99.9 KONY Country radio shared the family’s story on air, including Jemma Barbata’s cancer diagnosis and their recent plumbing catastrophe.

Heath Varney at Utah Disaster Kleenup heard about the Barbata’s through the radio show and started to organize the local contractors and vendors. From that point on, the restoration company took the lead in managing the renovation and inviting local businesses to participate.

Utah Disaster Kleenup Branch Manager Justin Helms said, “They’ve gone through just a slew of bad luck with Jemma’s cancer and then their house. This family of six was down to one bathroom in their house. We knew we wanted to help out, no questions asked. Little did we know what this was going to turn into.”

After placing some calls in the next couple hours, the restoration company heard back from many local businesses with offers to supply the materials and labor needed to restore and even improve the family’s home, Helms said.

For their part, the hosts of KONY Country radio show were overjoyed to see the community’s response.

“In two hours, we had a plan and a date,” Lane said. “It was literally a miracle. It’s one thing to give during Christmas time, but we’re in March and people came to the table even now. I was just standing in their kitchen with Justin from UDK, and we saw a bill on their corkboard. He took a picture of it, and he’s going to pay it. That’s the kind of people we have here in Southern Utah.”

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!