GOSHEN — Scott and Lori Roth were heartbroken after the painful loss of their only child, but the Goshen couple knew that together they could find a glint of light in the dark.
Their 22-year-old son, Ben Roth, took his own life four years ago. He had been abused when he was just 3 years old and kept it a secret from his parents until a few months before his death.
“My wife and I had just determined that we weren’t going to let this destroy us,” Scott Roth said, describing his son as a compassionate, generous young man.
In June, the Roths will open The Little House That Ben Built, a transitional home to help one family at a time get back on their feet after coming out of an abusive situation.
“I hope these families can see that somebody cares about them, that someone wants to see them succeed,” Roth explained.
‘JUST A BOX’
A house on Main Street had been donated to LaCasa Inc. after it caught fire a few years ago. LaCasa, a group that finds affordable housing for low-income families, gutted the house but didn’t have enough grant money to completely renovate the home.
“It was basically just a box — no floor on the second level, no walls, no furnace, no electricity, no nothing, just a box,” Roth said.
But that didn’t stop the Roths from moving forward with the project. The couple gauged the community’s interest, and local businesses quickly stepped up to help by donating hickory flooring for the home, plumbing fixtures, painting supplies, appliances, lawn care and other services.
“I was shocked at the response, totally shocked,” Roth said.
Volunteers have been coming and going for the past few months to lend a hand at the house. Kathy Nobles, an insurance agent in Elkhart, was among two dozen volunteers who helped landscape the backyard this past weekend.
“It’s just going to be gorgeous,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful place, and I think it’s going to give a family hope that life can be different.”
‘A SOFT PLACE TO LAND’
The house’s restoration has been dramatic, Roth said. The house had been stripped down to the studs, but months of hard work have transformed the two-story building into a home with a spacious backyard, a garage, 2 1/2 bathrooms and three bedrooms with customized closets.
“We want the family to be able to walk right in, set their stuff down, crawl in bed and feel like it’s a safe, comfortable place for them to put their lives back together,” Roth said.
His wife, Lori Roth, is in charge of the house’s interior design. She hopes to create a “soft place to land at the end of the day” with a few personal touches, including a reading nook on the first floor with a mini library.
“I remember reading to Ben when he was little,” she said. “He would just crawl up on my lap, and we would read together all the time, so I felt like that was an important thing to include. It’s important for families to do things like that together.”
‘IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD’
Ben Roth had volunteered at three of LaCasa’s Help-a-House events to repair homes in Goshen. He told his parents that one day he would like to have enough money to build a house from the ground up for the organization.
“I remember Ben as a young man who was interested in working with his dad, doing something to help people,” said Bonnie Martin, LaCasa’s vice president of development.
Lori Roth said her son enjoyed knowing that he was helping someone in need.
“He had a very tender heart,” she said. “I think it was Bonnie Martin who asked Ben at the end of the day at one of the Help-a-House days, ‘Well Ben, was it worth you getting out of bed?’ And he said, ‘Yes, because it makes you feel good to help someone else out.’ I know that this would make him feel good that we’re going to be helping others out.”
The Roths have been working closely with LaCasa to find the first family to live in the home. Once they are moved in, the organization will partner with other agencies in Elkhart County to help the family mend their lives. A professional resume writer, a doctor, a dentist and a family counselor have already donated their services.
Lori Roth said the community’s support for The Little House That Ben Built has been overwhelming.
“Tears come to my eyes just thinking about how much people care,” she said. “Our community really does care. They care enough to give to people they don’t know and care enough about our son’s legacy. It’s just sometimes too much to wrap our heads around actually.”
THE LITTLE HOUSE THAT BEN BUILT DEDICATION AND CONCERT
The home, located at 1404 S. Main St. in Goshen, will be dedicated at 2 p.m. June 22.
A fundraiser featuring a performance by the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra will be held at 6 p.m. June 22 at Goshen College’s Sauder Concert Hall. Tickets are available for $30 by calling 888-978-6596.