Since 2014, Todd and Gina Grundmeier, owners of T ‘N G Plumbing, Dexter, Minnesota, have been remodeling bathrooms as a way to give back for the help they received when they needed it the most.
The couple founded Pay It Forward, a 501c3 organization that oversees donations and in-kind labor from fellow skilled trades people, wholesalers and other local businesses to “brighten, enlighten and rejuvenate hope of families in need.”
The program’s first recipient, for example, was Jason Ferch, a paraplegic whose wheelchair never quite fit through his standard-sized bathroom doorway. For 14 years, he scraped his knuckles every time he wheeled through. Remodeling crews widened the bathroom by nearly 2 feet by removing a neighboring closet, which provided ample space to not only widen the doorway, but also install a roll-in shower and wall-hung sink.
In the years since, Becky and Gary Josephson got a bath and home upgrade to allow her to have at-home kidney dialysis. And Terra Gorman, a single mother of three children, got her bathroom renovations wrapped up after Terra had to put the plans on hold as one of her children battled bone cancer. For this project, the Gorman family also received an entirely new bathroom downstairs, a new floor for the kitchen, new furnace and other decorative upgrades.
“It is such euphoric soul food,” Gina adds. “It feels so good to be able to give back in this way.”
Pay It Forward
To understand, Pay It Forward, you have to go back to the early hours of Nov. 8, 2010.
That’s when the Gina and Todd and her two daughters awoke to smoke and flame. As they waited outside for the fire department shivering in a cold Minnesota night, the fire quickly consumed the home and all their belongings.
“Insurance is great, but it can’t replace my great-grandmother’s Bible that I won’t be able to read anymore or the violin my great-grandfather made that I won’t be able to play again,” she says.
However, in the immediate aftermath, the Grundmeiers learned first-hand how their neighbors and even people they didn’t know were all too eager to help.
“Everyone gave us our first real taste of what community love was all about,” Gina says. “There were strangers and friends crawling out of the woodwork to offer a hand, a meal, clothing and emotional support.”
The Grundmeiers soon started rebuilding their lives. In fact, Todd took the life-changing opportunity to open up his own plumbing business just four months after the fire.
“At that point, he’d been working locally as a plumber for nearly 20 years,” Gina says. “He had an impeccable reputation and the customers loved him, so why not take the plunge?”
Todd figured he’d be happy being on his own for about the first five years making residential service and repair calls with Gina taking care of dispatch and office work.
The two actually met when both worked for Todd’s former employer and sound to us like a match made in PHCPPros heaven – or at least from her perspective since we didn’t get the opportunity to talk to Todd.
“I actually have every wife’s dream,” Gina says. “I sit in the office and answer the phone and do all the scheduling. So, when it comes time for the work, I get to tell him what to do, where to go when to do it. And it’s, ‘Yes dear.’ ”
Within a year, this teamwork paid off and the company had to add another plumber (the staff is up to four now) to keep up the pace since the fledging business had earned accounts in nearly every town of Mower County, a county with a population of 40,000 that sits along the state’s border with Iowa.
And things kept getting better for T ‘N G Plumbing from there.
In 2014, the Grundmeiers won an award naming their business the best in the county.
“We were just blown away because we hadn’t been in business very long,” Gina remembers. “We don’t succeed without everybody else. So we wanted to find a way to pay back a community that put that kind of faith in us.”
Thus, with the help after the fire never far from mind plus this great award, Pay It Forward was born.
How it works
Each year, from Jan. 1-31, people can send an essay to Pay It Forward describing why someone needs help along with a couple of photos of the bathroom: “Typically, someone who just won’t ask for the help, but would be the first to help others in need,” states the website.
About the only hard-and-fast rule for Gina is that the folks have to live in Mower County and own their homes – if only because Gina wants her recipients to enjoy the added value that the work will naturally bring to their homes.
“Every year,” Gina says, “there’s the one that really jumps out at you.”
For 2020, that one was Henry Mandler, a single father of three children. Two years ago, Mandler was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair.
While Gina says many things in the essay spoke highly of Mandler, one story in particular stood out. As Mandler being taken to the hospital, he was lucid enough to say thanks and apologize to the surgical team for making them come out in the middle of the night.
Believe it or not, Mandler had been going up and down stairs in his split-level house on 2x4s.
“The man has not just an immense amount of physical strength to go up and down his stairs, but also the mental strength to persevere and keep going forward.”
Besides bathroom and other home upgrades, the Pay It Forward team installed a motorized ramp for the stairs.
Over the years, Pay It Forward has provided remodeling and repairs that have gone well past just fixing up one bathroom. From beginning to end, about 50 individuals and companies are involved in projects that could include HVAC, electrical, flooring, tile and painting contractors. From its start in 2014, the first project budget was a little more than $24,000; by 2019, that number had grown to $62,400.
Local hotels even provide lodging during the one week the family is removed from their home while the work is done. And restaurants donate meals for the trades people.
Besides contractors, Gina also depends on wholesalers such as Johnstone Supply and Dakota Supply for plumbing and heating equipment, as well as a local hardware store for odds and ends.
Aside from the main annual project, Pay It Forward has also helped pay for everything from medical bills to building deer stands for the local American Legion, and from cutting down 30 dead trees from an elderly couple’s property to replacing a stolen snow blower belonging to another senior citizen.
“We just are happy wrapping everyone up in a blanket of community love,” Gina says. “ You don’t have to know someone to know that they matter.”