The Tim Corley story, like so many others, begins with love and loss. From that ubiquitous beginning, however, the narrative of Tim’s struggle to find a home in which he could live comfortably — a home unhindered by physical obstacles and unhaunted by emotional ones — unfolds with magnificent fervor. Tim’s story is one of intense sorrow and isolation. It’s a story of unlikely friendship and incredible support; of equal parts frustration and relief, with the former admittedly piled high on the front end. It’s a story that captures the hallmarks of the era in which we live, from our apparently constant inward focus to the endless flood of paper-pushing and legal maneuvers around which our public lives seem to be constructed. But it’s also a story of hope and strength. And it all begins with a chairlift.
Tim and his mother, Natalie, lived together in Euless for more than twenty years, relying on each other to overcome their individual weaknesses. Hampered by a bone-eating variety of arthritis, Tim moved in with his mother to provide her with moral support as she battled congestive heart failure. Between the two of them, the little family had undergone nearly half a dozen hip replacements and multiple back surgeries; most of them Tim’s. Experimental pain medicine had altered his brain, as well, leaving him with a speech impediment that masks a sharp intellect. Largely confined to their house near Main Street, the Corleys kept each other going with little more than love and Social Security. Near the end of their time in the house, the downstairs bathroom hardly functioned and each of them was forced to labor up a flight of stairs to use the laundry room and facilities, both located on the second floor. By multiple accounts, Tim wasted large portions of the day struggling to tackle those stairs with a bad leg. But they had each other, and that was enough. Until the system broke down.
Most mornings, says Tim, he would wake to the sound of his mother shuffling around downstairs; her mind and body permanently programmed for an early start by years of work. But one day, he woke to silence. Natalie had passed in the night at the age of 75, leaving Tim alone in the home they shared for the better part of three decades. He found her, unmoving, in her bed. It was the second time he had been present for the loss of a parent: Tim had previously attempted CPR on his own father, to no avail.
The loss of his mother hit Tim hard, the pain compounded by the fact that the pair of them had virtually no one else to rely on. His recovery was a long road, one which we will traverse together in the paragraphs that follow. It's a long and twisting narrative that can only be digested piece by piece, and as such it has been organized in short-linked chapters below. It begins with a deep depression interrupted by an encounter that set Tim on the path to a family uniquely suited to meet his needs. Complex legal maneuvers follow, eventually leading to a brave decision to renovate and sell the home. In a practical sense, nothing came easily for Tim over the last four years. The bond that formed between him and his allies, however, stands in sharp contrast to the self-imposed seclusion of the busy American life. Tim's story, when all is said and done, showcases the best and worst of our society on the whole.
Trapped and Overwhelmed
Without family or friends in the area, things looked bleak in the near-empty Corley house. All but trapped in the home by a set of front steps that he could only traverse with his walker, Tim spent months fending off phone calls about his mortgage and his mother’s credit card debt. Often, the calls came from companies who didn’t know that Natalie had passed on. Debt collectors consistently asked Tim if they could speak with the woman he had lost, and the bank refused to deal with anyone who couldn’t verify their right to access her accounts. Her son couldn’t afford a funeral, deferring to the state and, ultimately, never knowing where his mother was buried. In the months it took for her death certificate to arrive, Tim was helpless to escape the grief of her absence as pressure mounted to settle her affairs. Natalie had left no official will, leaving him with no legal claim to his own home.
“I’d go to the bank and they would say ‘we can’t help you; you’ve got to call the mortgage department.’ Well, the mortgage department wouldn’t talk to me because they didn’t know who I was or what my issue was. They wouldn’t take the time to learn anything,” Tim said in a February interview with 6 Stones, which took place after his old home sold. “Getting out from under the mortgage was almost… you can’t really equate it to being born again, but in human terms, it’s pretty dang close. One day you’re not knowing if you want to wake up the next day, and the next day you want to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. That pretty much is where I am now. There’s so many things I want to do, I want to see, and having the independence that I have now, I’m able to at least delve into things I could have never even dreamed of.”
That relief was hard-earned. Tim eventually escaped his inflating mortgage and found a home that was better suited to his needs, but the path from that tragic estate to his new lease on life was one he couldn’t have traversed alone. All told, nearly two dozen people worked to rescue Tim from the complex swamp of grief and responsibility in which he was mired. From lawyers to realtors to church volunteers who helped to pack away the Corleys’ belongings — along with the memories they represented — it took a proverbial village to move Tim into a better life. But the constant in that shifting equation was a humble man who just wanted to do as Jesus taught him.
The First of Many Steps
Dale and Joyce Turns are two of many incredible volunteers who help to make 6 Stones what it is. They work as homeowner liaisons in the city of Euless, identifying individuals who could benefit from the Community Powered Revitalization (CPR) program. To the best of Tim’s recollection, he contacted Dale three months into the property ordeal. Although neither of them knew it at the time, the men lived within a block of each other. Each attests that they never would have met without the intervention of 6 Stones and its local partners. Following Natalie’s death, a Euless police chaplain connected Tim with 6 Stones’ home repair initiative. But when Dale came to inspect the home, the prognosis was less than positive.
6 Stones and its City Partners have a strict set of guidelines for homes that qualify for CPR. The program is dedicated almost entirely to exterior work on homes with damaged frames and unruly landscape. Tim’s biggest needs — outdated blue carpet, malfunctioning plumbing, and a troublesome stairwell — would still remain, even if 6 Stones came to help. More importantly, the joint contracts between each city and the CPR office specifically forbid work on homes that aren’t registered in the name of the person living in them. Without a Will to establish him as the rightful owner, Tim wouldn’t qualify for assistance with the property.
“[Dale] saw a need and he went well above and beyond. He could’ve said ‘oh well, the property’s not in your name, so sorry, have a nice day’ and left it there. But he facilitated,” Tim said. “Without Dale’s guidance, I wouldn’t have known to do any of this. Dale being the liaison to 6 Stones is really what started all this.”
Coincidence and Anonymity
For Dale and Joyce Turns, walking away from a person in need was not an option. In part because doing so would contradict the Christian doctrine of selfless love that guides the Turns household, and in part because things just kept falling into place. Almost 30 miles down the highway from the Corley estate, another longtime 6 Stones volunteer was getting his own home in order. Ian Dacek, who had moved to Eagle Mountain Lake with his family after helping 6 Stones to establish a ministry in the Westdale Hills apartment complex, found himself with an unwanted chairlift. He called to see if anyone else had a need for it, answering a prayer that Dale had yet to pray.
“The other day, someone said, ‘the word coincidence is simply a situation where God has elected to remain anonymous,’” Dale told 6 Stones in a July phone interview. “It’s got G-O-D stamped all over it. You can’t have all these coincidences… I put all those pieces together and I consider that “coincidence” just a confirmation that you’re doing good; as the Holy Spirit guiding me to say that I need to keep going and see this through to the end.”
The sudden appearance of the chair lift was far from the final coincidence of record.
“He could talk anybody into anything.”
Convinced that something important was happening with the Corley home, Dale contacted Adams, Lynch & Loftin; a Grapevine-based law firm that has represented both 6 Stones and its founding church for years. He was put in contact with Dori Grubaugh, one of the lawyers who had drafted the incorporation documents that established 6 Stones as an official non-profit organization. She was happy to donate her services to help Tim, although the firm itself never represented him as legal counsel.
“We represent 6 Stones; we want to help people. It’s part of the professional ethics to do it,” Grubaugh said in a phone interview, noting that the Tarrant County Bar Association encourages pro bono work and that the firm was careful to avoid any conflicts of interest. On a personal note, she added, “Dale’s a great guy, anyway. I think he could talk anybody into anything because he’s just so kind and nice. It wasn’t a problem, in this situation, to help out, because Dale was very helpful himself, to get the information we needed to make sure we helped Tim correctly.”
During our June interviews with the Associate Attorney, Grubaugh told 6 Stones that she was unaware of Tim’s debt-induced stress until recently. Both by email and later by phone, she noted that estate problems like Tim’s were not uncommon: by her estimation, around half of individuals who pass away leave no will behind. According to her, many clients have a hard time even when there is a will because they simply cannot afford to pay the fees associated with probating an estate. Often, she says, individuals in these situations place undue pressure on themselves to handle the problem immediately: there is a four-year window to probate a Will, but most people feel the need to hurry the process along after a family member’s death. To some extent, Tim had been forcing himself to confront more of the issue than he needed to face in the early months. Grubaugh also told 6 Stones that, while Tim could have asked for leniency from his bank, the institution was likely following proper protocol in refusing to release any information on his mother’s account until they had definitive proof that he had the right to access it and handle her affairs.
According to Grubaugh, Texas law provides a number of legal mechanisms to address the affairs and assets of Natalie’s estate after her death. After considering the unique facts in Tim’s case, Grubaugh suggested the acquisition of an Affidavit of Heirship to establish the relationship between Tim and Natalie. In our interview, Grubaugh was quick to point out that an Affidavit of Heirship is not a magic cure-all for everyone and will not solve estate problems in every situation. In Tim’s case, this special form of affidavit would act as evidence of his heirship and show his legal ownership of the home through intestacy. However, applicable law required that someone other than Tim or any other family member sign the affidavit. Thus, Dale and Tim would need to find someone who could verify Natalie’s family tree and marital history. Finding someone who has the qualifications and personal knowledge to sign such affidavits can be difficult in some cases, particularly in instances when the deceased is elderly. Often, only close friends with long relationships will be privy to all of the necessary details. This is especially true of individuals like Natalie, who are somewhat isolated due to infirmity or disability.
“Lipstick on a pig.”
Fortunately, Dale was able to locate a person who was qualified and willing to sign an Affidavit of Heirship. Ultimately, the property was transferred to Tim and a professional team was dispatched to install the donated chairlift on behalf of 6 Stones. Their immediate problem solved, Tim and Dale confronted their next task: the newly acquired estate was likely to bankrupt its owner. Because Tim did not qualify for the same tax breaks as his mother, the property taxes alone jumped to almost six times their previous cost. This led the bank that held his mortgage to increase the monthly escrow charges for taxes and insurance to cover the increased tax on the property. Tim was falling behind on the payments, and the bank had begun to threaten foreclosure. With his income fixed, there was no hope that he could salvage his finances. It was time to sell the home.
“That’s when we got into the thought process of saying ‘ok, what if we just come in and re-do this, give it a makeover — kind of the lipstick on the pig kind of thing, but to a very nice degree; we picked very nice lipstick — and sell the thing?’” Dale said, crediting the labor involved to a series of volunteers from the 6 Stones network of partners. Churches sent volunteer movers and carpenters to fix doorways, Floors Depot TX donated several thousand dollars in supplies, and a local realtor took charge of the sale.
“I met Tim about a month after his mom passed away. Mark Massey had contacted me, as Chaplain of the Euless Police Department. He knew that Tim was in a bad situation, so I went over to visit with Tim because we wanted to get the title changed over to Tim’s name,” said Linda Eilenfeldt, a 6 Stones Board Member and real estate agent who agreed to assist in the sale of the Corley house. “I walked into a property with blue carpeting, with a dog that was in terrible condition, but what impacted me more than that was the fact that Tim talked about how the bathroom on the main level didn’t work. He was crawling upstairs to use the restroom and to sleep and to shower every day. It was overwhelming to me. I knew that I couldn’t, by myself, fix this problem.”
The Next Hurdle
Fortunately, there was a team in place. Eilenfeldt says that, before any work was done on the property, the home received an initial bid of $55,000 from an investor who likely would have flipped it, just as Dale intended to do. While that offer would have helped Tim to escape his mortgage, it would also have left him with limited resources in the next phase of his life. Dale wanted more than that; he wanted to put some nice lipstick on this pig project. The team set out to provide Tim with a nest egg and the chance to move into a home approved by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In an ADA home, Tim could function independently and interact with his neighbors more readily, a welcome change after being isolated in a property ill-suited to his needs. But selling the estate meant going down a familiar path: the majority of title companies require multiple affidavits of heirship to establish a clean title and enable a sale. The team only had one.
The search for another individual who knew Natalie Corley led Tim and Dale to a nursing home in Lewisville. The woman in question was so delicate in constitution that a visit to her would require the approval of her primary caretaker, a daughter who was unavailable for comment at the time this article was published. According to Dale, however, that daughter was so concerned over his attempted visit that she called to forbid Tim or Dale from asking for her mother again. The younger woman expressed a fear that the very mention of Natalie Corley would make her own mother frantic. Dale remembers a mixture of anger and sorrow pouring out over the phone as she lamented about long-lost dinner table conversation with Natalie. It was then that Tim and Dale realized another prayer had been answered: the woman’s daughter had known the Corley family for decades. She could sign the affidavit.
With another witness on record, the once-tenuous property was finally ready for the open market. It was listed for $119,000 — more than double the original appraised value — and sold for $121,000. Tim was so appreciative that he asked Dale to help organize a luncheon for everyone who helped with the project once it was complete. That February event was the beginning of this article, but the end of a long journey for Tim.
“The beacon I needed.”
“I consider myself a Christian, but I was struggling a lot before I met Dale. His friendship and guidance helped me more than I can put into words. He treated me more like a son than an acquaintance or a friend or anything else,” Tim told 6 Stones during that luncheon. “Dale was truly the beacon that I needed in my life at that time. I’m still not where I need to be, of course. No one ever is. But I feel more secure in where I’m at now than where I was three or four years ago.”
Security starts with stable ground, the acquisition of which was the product of yet another fortunate coincidence for Tim. 6 Stones partners at the Tarrant County Housing Partnership (TCHP) helped to place him in an apartment where he has been living independently since closing the sale of his home, his debts settled and a sizable portion of the remaining profit set aside to sustain him long-term.
“It just so happens that when Mr. Turns called we had a downstairs ADA unit available in Arlington for Tim. Since he uses a wheelchair to get around 90% of the time it was important that we get him into an accessible apartment or one that has been configured for wheelchairs, including roll in shower, larger door openings, lower countertops, etc. that provide accommodations for wheelchair bound residents,” said TCHP’s Stephan Smyth via email, “Providing housing for people is what I do and have done for 35 years, and I am blessed every day to work with TCHP, all of its people, and all of our partners to help accomplish that mission… Lots of people came together for the benefit of Tim. I am certain that their hearts are smiling; ours certainly is.”
The team that made Tim’s transition possible, across the board, seem to agree with Smyth. For some, like Dale, it was a calling. For others, like Grubaugh, it was a sobering reminder that we don’t Neighbor the way we used to; that people like Tim and Natalie can live on the fringe of society, not far from people who would care about them if only they would meet. How was it that a family who had lived in the same place for twenty years had no one to help them when their matriarch passed? And, on the other side of the proverbial coin, how did it come to pass that 23 strangers would band together to support her lonesome heir?
The answer, it would seem, is that we’re beginning to rethink the way we live in America, or at least in Tarrant County. When asked about their personal experience with the re-model and sale of the Corley house, the people involved identify and malign a trend toward isolation in modern life. But they also note a (sub)conscious withdrawal from that trend. Our nation may be increasingly busy and isolated, but it seems as if we desire to be anything but. We want unity. Community. Relationship.
“We're building community.”
“I have met people I never would’ve met without this process. Dale and Joyce have met other people. The word spread that Tim needed help, so different church people came through in packing. We’re building community. We’re taking care of our neighbors. We’re getting to know one another and love one another,” Eilenfeldt said. “We live in a cocooning society. You come into your garage at night, you close the garage door. You go behind the gates of your house and you may not see your neighbors until the next morning. But this community — through 6 Stones — we’re breaking those barriers. People are craving relationships. People want to have that social relationship, not just the Facebook relationship with social media. People need to have that social relationship. It’s so important to build relationships and get to know people. It’s very easy to walk away from something if you just know that it’s a person’s name. You can’t walk away from something if you know the person’s story.”
While it’s kind of her to credit 6 Stones with the development of a more unified community, it’s important to note that Tim’s story would have ended very differently if not for the people who took a special interest in him. This organization exists to connect people, identify needs, and equip neighbors to care for one another. 6 Stones is not the solution: it’s the mechanism for a solution, a source for supplies and connections. A social resource. But the work still falls to individuals within this community. That’s what it means to be “a catalyst of hope.” Not to prescribe or provide a holistic solution, but to help our neighbors identify and carry out their desire to fix the things that have broken down.
“It’s like we rely on the social service organizations out there to take care of people, and we as individuals have forgotten to do it ourselves… that’s really where the struggle is. There’s a lot of things — the old, barn-raising kind of helping people out — that doesn’t happen anymore,” Grubaugh said over the phone, later adding: “From what I remember of what Dale did, I think he was really going all out to help Tim and really investing in his life. That’s the difference; you can have volunteers and you can have investors. Investors are really the people that you want on board to help. A volunteer shows up and paints a wall, but an investor really cares about the life behind it and what’s going to happen tomorrow and the next day and the next day.”
Investing in people can be expensive. Generally, it carries a financial and an emotional cost. Sometimes, it yields little to no result. But people like Dale Turns are drawn to it. Whether because they’ve accepted theological ideals as true and reliable or because they believe in something beyond coincidence, they invest. And it makes a world of difference for people like Tim, who are the victims of circumstance more than anything.
“It’s funny, I lived less than a mile away from [Dale]. I had been there twenty plus years. I’d probably seen him in passing; wouldn’t know him from Adam. He wouldn’t know me. But CPR brought us together and the rest is a long and storied tale that needs to be told. Things like that don’t happen to people like me,” Tim told 6 Stones, pausing to recollect himself as his emotions stirred.
“There’s a lot of negativity in the world, and people need to understand that it just takes one good person to make a change,” he continued, noting the value of Dale’s efforts to care for him in more than a physical sense. “It seems profound, but it really isn’t. If you think about it, if you’re nourished Spiritually, then the other nourishments will come. If you allow for a higher power, God, to infiltrate your life, then you’ll be able to work other things out.”
The biggest change for Tim wasn’t a new address. It was a new understanding of his place in the world. The knowledge that he was loved with extravagance; by his neighbors and maybe even by something bigger than them, something that could line up every piece of chaos in his life and turn it into a grand design. Something that remodeled more than his home. Something beyond coincidence.