An Artist's Recovery

Richard Burton

While no family is ever fully prepared for the reality of a stroke, Norma Burton of Hiwassee, Virginia knew that she would need to make changes around the house after her husband’s medical emergency in 2016.

Richard Burton had already experienced several mini-strokes, including one while he and his wife were in the line at a grocery store, before his hospitalization that August. After two months of rehabilitation, he returned to his home in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank.

“When he first had his stroke, I knew everything was going to be totally different,” Norma Burton said. “I would need to have different things like a porch with a ramp.”

Facing mobility challenges and a history of high utility bills, the Burtons turned to Community Housing Partners (CHP) for help. They were already familiar with the nonprofit because CHP Energy Solutions weatherized their previous home more than a decade ago. “I called CHP up and told them the situation,” Norma Burton said.

Weatherization in action

During an initial visit to their home, CHP’s weatherization crew members switched out lightbulbs and installed water-saving features in the bathroom and kitchen. They also found problems with the kitchen floor and a leak coming from the hot water heater, so they returned to install a new floor and a new hot water heater. The CHP team returned in September to fully weatherize the Burton home.

“Their hospitality is off the charts. It is just amazing,” said Richard Burton, who explained that he has never met a stranger in his life. “When they came here, it was like family was in my house. It felt like they were all family — people I had never met before.”

Jamie Hilton, Weatherization Crew Lead with CHP Energy Solutions Weatherization and Contracting, oversaw the weatherization work.

“We insulated the attic, fixed the belly under the mobile home and insulated in, and put plastic down under the home,” Hilton said. “We also installed new showerheads and sink aerators, wrapped the hot water heater, and installed more caulking around the plumbing. Our team also put in a new back door, fixed some glass in the windows, and installed a new fan to improve air circulation. We also adjusted the front door so that it would latch better and air-sealed it up.”

For the weatherization work, CHP secured funding through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which reduces energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes while ensuring health and safety, as well as funds from the household’s utility provider, Appalachian Power. CHP is the largest provider of WAP services in Virginia.

CHP also leveraged additional funds from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Emergency Home and Accessibility Repair Program to install a new porch with a ramp to address Richard Burton’s mobility issues.

“We were so excited because, when they put the back door in, he had never been able to roll in to the wash room to get there,” said Norma Burton, who explained that her husband and daughter had attempted to repair their porch themselves, but it still presented safety hazards. “When they built the porch, they even put a little bench for him so that when he rolls out the door, he can sit outside there and paint.”

An artist in the making

Richard Burton began painting after his 2016 stroke. When he returned from the hospital, he asked his wife to hand him a pen and a piece of paper. “He said he wanted to draw his grandmother the way he remembered her — and then he just kept drawing and painting,” Norma Burton explained.

Even though he has never taken an art class, Richard Burton has made dozens upon dozens of works of art over the past year, with subjects ranging from landscapes and wildlife, to musical instruments and buildings, to self-portraits.

“Sometimes, I just take a piece of paper and sit down and start drawing or painting,” said Richard Burton, who not only watches videos from his hero, Bob Ross, every day but has copies of his books on his bookshelf.

While CHP’s weatherization crew was making repairs and upgrades on his home last year, Richard Burton asked to keep pieces of scrap wood to use for painting. When they finished their work, he also gave the crew a painting of a winter landscape to express his gratitude.

Like most of his art, Burton began this painting with only a general idea of what he wanted to do. “I was just thinking about a cold winter night scene,” he said.  “It’s just a very good feeling to me. When I start, I can move mountains with my mind. I can just move mountains.”

Richard Burton’s winter landscape painting now hangs at the CHP Energy Solutions Weatherization and Contracting building in Christiansburg, Virginia. In addition to CHP, Burton has donated his art to others in the community. “People say, why don’t you sell your paintings?” he said. “Because I get more joy out of giving it to people. It fills up my heart. There’s more enjoyment to see somebody when you give it to them than when they pay for it. But if you give it to them, they appreciate it more.”

A safer and healthier home

Thanks to CHP Energy Solutions, the family now has a more energy efficient, safer, and healthier home for Richard Burton to pursue his interests and the rest of the family to enjoy. “We can tell the difference,” he said.

Hilton explained that the newly weatherized home should have lower utility bills in the long run, too. “We try to get all the air and all of the heat to stay inside of the home,” he said. “We insulated in the crawlspace of the home, which keeps the duct system warmer and makes the air stay inside. Then, we insulated the roof so that no heat escapes.”

Every week, Hilton sees two or three clients like the Burtons who need repairs and energy efficiency improvements on their homes. Last year, CHP weatherized 7,673 homes, including 3,353 homes through WAP, 167 Emergency Home Repair households, and 3,632 low-income utility households.

Of all the homes that he has weatherized with CHP, Hilton added that Richard Burton was the first client to present him with a work of art, which he will always remember.

View the 2017 Community Impact Report.