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Tripp Halstead’s homecoming

By Greg Bluestein - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Tripp Halstead’s dad turned toward the hundreds of teary-eyed friends who gathered on his front lawn and tried to savor the moment before he wheeled his 2-year-old boy into the home they’ve been waiting months to see.

“Walking through the front door symbolically, to me, means leaving the past behind,” said the father, Bill Halstead, as his wife Stacy blinked back tears.

And with that, the three saw for the first time the fruits of a renovation by a dedicated corps of carpenters, contractors, plumbers and painters, organized by the Sunshine on a Ranney Day charity. The group of dozens of volunteers has worked since March to turn the Jefferson house into a new home for the Halstead clan.

Tripp was outside his Winder day care center in October when high winds swept up by Hurricane Sandy brought down a tree limb that struck him on the head. It fractured his skull, and the toddler has been through too many surgeries and hospital stays since then.

Consider Saturday his homecoming party. His parents took him past family photos carefully arrayed on the walls by volunteers, to the kitchen table specially designed for his wheelchair, through the extra-wide hallways, up and down stairs outfitted with special lifts and to a sleek bathroom whirlpool tub where Stacy quivered: “I’m going to stay here forever.”

And then they arrived at the rec room in the basement. There, sealed into the ceiling tiles above the ping pong table and comfy couch, were pictures of Tripp before the accident: Posing on a dirt bike, chomping a cupcake, beaming behind a convertible’s steering wheel.

That brought a hug. Then a promise.

“He’ll be doing that again one day,” Stacy whispered. “And he’ll start right here in this house.”

They went back upstairs, near the media room where a poster from the movie “Pay It Forward” hangs on the wall, past the leafy backyard where a therapeutic pool soon will be built, by the calming sign near the garage with that all-important reminder: “Everything Will Be OK.”

Outside, the throng gathered on the quiet street was teary-eyed no longer. They were bawling.

Well, not everyone. A little girl sat in her wheelchair with a smile that seemed etched in stone.

Her name is Briana Hudson and she had suffered her own devastating injuries when her family’s car was struck head-on in October 2011. She was 4 years old at the time.

But on this day, she and her family were overjoyed. They had just learned that the charity that revamped Tripp’s house will work on their place next.

And the Halstead family vowed to help every step of the way.

“We’re looking forward to paying it forward,” Bill said, “and helping others.”

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