AMERICAN FORK — Some people feel a bit uncomfortable when they first meet Stephen Phillips.
They don't know what to say to a man in a wheelchair.
But after a few jokes and lighthearted chatter they are at ease with Stephen and his wife, Teresa. Until recently, however, Stephen and Teresa didn't realize just how much people loved them.
Stephen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 16 years old. A few years ago the progression of his disease required him to begin using a wheelchair. But the hallway in the Phillips home is too narrow to accommodate the wheelchair, so Stephen has to walk to the bathroom or bedrooms.
And the home fails to meet the growing needs of the family, which includes four boys ranging in age from 2 to 9.
Wanting to help the family, Clayton Grace, the husband of Teresa's sister, set up a Web site to help raise funds so the Phillipses can make additions to their home. So far the site, www.homemakeoveraf.com, has raised $13,261.30.
Both the Phillipses' families and many of their friends surprised them with $11,000 and the news of the Web site at Christmas.
"We were floored, just completely shocked," Stephen said.
The Phillipses said they don't know many of the people who have donated money. Donations have come from all over the world, from Australia and Chile to Hawaii and Michigan.
Not all the donations are money. Clayton's brother-in-law works in drafting and drew up plans for additions. He gave those plans to Stephen Phillips' brother, an engineer, who created a cost analysis. The Phillipses' neighbor Matt Harper, a contractor, offered to help them with the construction and find subcontractors who would help them with the work for a low price, Stephen said. He is also trying to get a reduced rate on a building permit from American Fork, he said.
Clayton said numerous people have offered volunteer labor when the project starts, plus companies have called to say they have windows or cabinets to donate.
"It's overwhelming that everyone has so much love for us," said Teresa Phillips.
Teresa's sister, Amy Grace, said it wasn't difficult to want to help the family because family members are so positive about Stephen's condition.
Both Stephen and Teresa said it helps to stay positive and have good attitudes: Bitterness doesn't make them feel better.
Teresa works part time as a pharmacy technician while Stephen stays home with their boys. She also spends much of her time running errands and taking members of her family to doctor appointments. The Phillipses' oldest son has diabetes.
"She's like a single mother," Stephen said. "She has four boys and me, so five boys to take care of. ... She helps me get dressed. I couldn't think of a better person to be with. I love her very much."
For her part, Teresa said even though it's difficult she's happy to be with her husband and her children.
"I would take my problems over what other people have, (like) drug abuse," she said. "It doesn't make any sense to be mad."
The Phillipses don't know yet how much the project will cost, but the Graces are confident they can raise enough, Amy said.