It’s a crisp, starlit night on Storter Avenue off Bayshore in Naples. Very quiet, too. Several of the modest homes in the neighborhood are decorated with blinking white, green and red lights. House 2619 has a several cars and a large, white SUV parked in the driveway. Standing at the mailbox you can hear Christmas carols and laughter floating out of the living room, an 8-by-15-foot plywood add-on that looks like it used to be a front porch. Inside, next to the Christmas tree, John Stebbins, 46, picks up a present wrapped in shiny red paper and topped with a hunter green ribbon. He lovingly taps it on little John John‘s head. John John, 9, has cerebral palsy, so does his twin brother, Christopher. John John has the mental maturity of a toddler and requires daily medicine injections through a tube that’s permanently embedded in his stomach. Christopher, however, started talking when he was about 18 months, Stebbins says.”Hey, Christopher,” Stebbins shouts above the singing and clapping. “Tell everybody how you say, ‘ho, ho, ho’.” ”Ho, ho, ho,” Christopher bellows to the delight of everyone in the house. Christopher claps while John John hops up and down on his knees and laughs. Tonight the owners and managers of Curves in Naples, along with their family and friends, are visiting. They’ve brought presents and holiday cheer to this selfless man and his challenged sons.
Groups like this one have been making contributions and visiting with the Stebbins family since a Daily News article them ran in October. They’ve received presents, cash, clothes for the boys, food for a Christmas day dinner and even furniture. Stebbins isn’t sure just how many gifts the family has received or even bothered to tabulate the amount of money spent on him and his boys.
The Ricky King Fund, a non-profit organization that helps 40 to 50 local families in need each year, has helped Stebbins financially for more than a year. Vice president Daniel Weidenbruch says the community’s response to Stebbins and his sons has been remarkable.
“His life is a lot different. There’s been a whirlwind of support since the article.” People have even broached the idea of buying a home for the Stebbins family, Weidenbruch says.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised by something like that at this point.”
Tonight’s giving group starts another carol. Christopher tries to sing. He grabs a black rubber nose and puts it on and claps along with the others, albeit a little out of rhythm.
Stebbins smiles. His front teeth are gone. He can’t read or write and doesn’t have a job. He’s been out of work for a couple months now, and he and the boys live off an $1,100 monthly federal disability aid. The boys’ mother, Penny, lives in North Carolina. Stebbins says she couldn’t handle the stresses that come with raising two disabled kids.
Stebbins says he’ll never give up on the boys. Christopher will likely be able to function mostly on his own as an adult. John John, however, will need constant care the rest of his life.
By about 8 p.m., the group says their “goodbyes” and piles into the SUV.
Gary and Paula Bruton are dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“Those kids are amazing. It’s just wonderful,” Gary says while standing in the driveway. He looks to Domingo Camacho, whose wife manages one of the gyms, and says, “What a happy moment for them.”
“What a happy moment for us,” Camacho says. “Their faces just lit up.”
Christopher and John John press their faces up against the screened windows near the front door. “Bye, Tanta,” Christopher says, slightly mispronouncing Santa.
The Stebbins boys are happy, and that’s all that matters to their father.
There are no doctor appointments to go to or errands for Stebbins to run. All that’s left to do tonight is to stare at the giant pile of presents under the Christmas tree, which Stebbins bought last year, and dream.
The Stebbins tradition is to open presents on Christmas morning. The kids will open more gifts today than all their Christmases combined.
“It’s going to look like a tornado in here,” Stebbins says as he looks around the shack-like living room. “It’s going to be an awesome Christmas.”
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