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Volunteers give 13-year-old boy a new home

Sal Zirpola and his 13-year-old son, Justin, who has severe spinal stenonis and uncontrolled seizures, see their home for the first time after a two-month mini-extreme makeover by volunteers from Cricket Communications, Hospice Buffalo/Essential Care for Children and Make a Wish Foundation. (Photo by Derek Gee / Buffalo News) 

BUFFALO -- Nurses, friends and volunteers cheered this morning outside a Milton Street house as an ambulance pulled up carrying 13-year-old Justin Zirpola.

Justin, strapped on a gurney and using a tube to breath, was about to see the results of two months of volunteer work to transform the tattered, vacant house into a home that could give Justin access to sunlight and fresh air.

It was a moment Justin's father, Sal Zirpola, had been working toward for more than two years -- before his wife died in November and dozens of volunteers stepped in to finish the work.

"This is truly a dream come true," said Stacie Farrell, supervisor for Hospice Buffalo's Essential Care for Children, which provides care for Justin.

The emotional homecoming came after a team of volunteers and workers from Cricket Communications, Hospice Buffalo, Make-a-Wish Foundation of Western New York and Centennial Homes and other organizations spent the summer gutting and rebuilding the house.

The home now has a first-floor bedroom and wheelchair-accessible ramp that will allow Justin's caregivers to easily bring him in and out of the house. Justin, who was born with Down Syndrome and has suffered a series of debilitating health problems since then, had been living in a second-floor apartment that made it difficult for his father to carry him outside.

Justin left his old home only for medical emergencies. In his new house, his first-floor bedroom opens onto a small patio where he can be wheeled down to the street.

"This is a good, fresh start," Sal Zirpola said. "It's going to be a labor of love, and the thing is, all these people helped."

See Justin in his new home for the first time Wednesday morning:

--Denise Jewell Gee

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