At the outset of 2017, Ben Rentie, Jr. felt it was just another year of living on the streets confined to a wheelchair thanks to two legs lost to frostbite almost a decade ago.
“At the time, I was just ‘homeless’,” Ben said. “Today, I’m so much more and I feel blessed that I’m still here to tell my story.”
Now he’s celebrating the new year in his very own apartment and standing on brand new prosthetic legs!
Click The Video Above to Watch Ben’s Inspirational Story!
And be sure to read the story below for all of the amazing details about Ben’s journey from homelessness to housing.
Ben’s Journey Begins
It’s too difficult to even fathom. One day Ben’s walking down the street trying to keep himself warm and safe. Then the temperatures plummet and he has nowhere else to go for shelter. He feels the freezing seemingly right down to his bones. Then Ben’s in the hospital and the doctor has no other choice but to amputate both of his legs.
“I had three surgeries, but the gangrene (the death of body tissue), had set in to the point they had to take them,” Ben said. “It’s hard to lose a limb. We all make mistakes and we have to learn from them.”
It’s 2009. Ben’s lost both of his legs above the knee … and he’s homeless.
What does he do next?
For Ben, there was no other choice but to put his hands on the wheels of his wheelchair and keep slowly moving forward despite a world of challenges ahead of him.
Years passed. He sometimes made his way into a safe place to live, but then he’d end up right back on the streets. Ben thought homelessness would never end.
The Path to Lottie House
A friend told Ben about Lottie House, our peer-run drop-in center in Oklahoma City. All Ben needed to hear was that it was a warm place where he could start figuring out how to get off the streets and into housing. It’s also a place to socialize, join support groups, and connect to vital services in the community, like mental health treatment and job training.
“They took me in as family,” Ben recalled of the Lottie House staff. “They went out of their way. I became a part of them and they became a part of me.”
From the first day Ben arrived at Lottie House, everyone quickly came to look forward to his visits, explained our own Gail Israel, who oversees our socialization program, Creating Connections, based out of Lottie House. Ben also frequents Creating Connections outings designed to help people impacted by mental illness get out and have fun with their peers who understand where each other has been, and how to help each other stay on their paths to recovery.
“Ben’s overcome so many hardships, but through it all he’s remained positive, funny, friendly, kind and thoughtful,” Gail said. “And’s he’s become a mentor at Lottie House always ready to offer advice or simply listen to someone in need.”
Limbs for Ben
The first time Gail met Ben, she immediately thought about how her friend at Limbs for Life Foundation could help him. It’s a global nonprofit organization dedicated to providing fully-functional prosthetic care for individuals who cannot otherwise afford it and raising awareness of the challenges facing people who have experienced amputations.
To help Ben receive the prosthetics from Limbs for Life, Gail teamed up with Hannah Blanden, a Lottie House part-time staffer who is also an occupational therapy student at the University of Oklahoma.
Ben penned his application letter by hand, and then Gail typed it up and sent it off to Limbs for Life. The waiting period was nerve-racking, but eventually Ben got the good news. His dream of walking again was about to become a reality. First, though, he needed a safe place to live.
Ben’s Next Step: Housing
Stephanie Newman is one of our supported housing service navigators in OKC. She admires Ben for his strength and his humor.
“He knows how to take the heaviness out of a situation,” Stephanie said, “and the heaviness came with gathering everything we needed in order to qualify him for our permanent supportive housing program.”
Stephanie spent two weeks straight urgently searching for a fully-accessible apartment for Ben.
“I called everyone in this city … everyone,” Stephanie said. “Ben was always patient. He would motivate me by saying, ‘You’ll find something, Stephanie.’ Never once did he call me and say, ‘Just forget it.’ He always kept motivating me and let me know that he was counting on me.”
Finally, Stephanie found a landlord very willing to modify the apartment’s bathroom door for Ben’s wheelchair.
“When he first saw the apartment, Ben was quiet at first but he was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can do this,’” Stephanie said. “He rolled into the kitchen and took a look around. You could see the gratitude, you could see it, we felt a very positive spirit that day.”
When Ben moved in, all he really had were some clothes, his electric wheelchair and very little else. So, our amazing volunteers led by Lori Wharton provided him with all manner of essentials, including kitchen utensils, toiletries and even furniture.
Lori asked Ben if he wanted a bed frame to go with his new mattress, but he preferred the mattress to stay on the floor.
He said, “No, I’m just gonna dive in it.”
“It was so funny and Lori was so impressed,” Stephanie recalled. “Ben’s still young at heart. He’s got a lot of fight left in him.”
When Stephanie accompanied Ben to one of his first prosthetic leg fittings at Sabolich, a renowned prosthetics company in OKC, she remembers the usually laid-back Ben as being “a little frightful.”
“It was a big change,” she said. “Ben was afraid of falling but I reassured him that we would not let him fall.”
To personalize the prosthetic legs, Sabolich staff laminated onto both prosthesis the logo of the Washington Redskins.
Stephanie recalled, “When he got home with the new legs for the first time, there was actually a football game on while we were there and Ben joked, ‘Man, I bet I could run up and down the field now!’”
Today, Ben’s still learning how to properly use his new legs, but, as he said, “I know they will help me be independent again.”
Ben’s new prosthetic legs each weigh about six pounds and will still take a lot of determination to master. Ben does his exercises at home, and he mostly gets around in his electric wheelchair donated by the occupational therapy department at the University of Oklahoma — a gift Hannah at the Lottie House helped make possible.
“Having his legs amputated did not amputate his spirit at all,” Stephanie said. “I’m very grateful that I got to meet him. And I’m very grateful that he calls and he says, “When I have an appointment, you still coming out here?” I say, “I’m not gonna forget about you.” You cannot forget about Benjamin Rentie, Jr. — you cannot forget about him.”
Ben can’t help but think back to what his life was like all those Novembers ago when he lost his legs to frostbite.
“I still think about it,” Ben said, “but I’m pushing on with life because I feel so blessed.”