Flames flicker in a wood stove in Pat and Cindy Lu Vaughn’s living room.
In a firm embrace, Pat Vaughn greets visitors beneath a wooden heart centered on a wall.
“Hello, I’m grandpa Pat.”
“I’m grandma Cindy,” she says, doing the same.
He looks out the front window and notices neighbor Mary Studtmann walking towards their front door with her 19-month-old son and her friend’s son.
“And see, they just stop by,” Cindy Vaughn says, as her husband opens the front door.
“Hey you guys, get on in here. Come on,” he says, ushering the trio inside their cozy home on a recent Thursday afternoon. Studtmann looks around the home.
“It looks like you’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff.”
“I did,” Cindy Vaughn responded. “I’ve been gifting like a mad woman.”
Studtmann stopped by to pick up some screwdrivers that Cindy Vaughn gifted to her through their Facebook community called Federal Way Ladies Sharing Cafe. The online group is a spin-off of Buy Nothing, where people in the community give items away to their neighbors for free. Some local gals created the new group where they share gifts, trade recipes and seek referrals.
Studtmann said that Cindy Vaughn has gifted her everything from shoes to furniture, and items for her children, including Lincoln logs, a baby monitor and a cradle.
“It’s so good to be able to give [community members] what they need,” Cindy Vaughn said, noting a woman had stopped by earlier that day to pick up an old pair of her shoes she had gifted to the woman. “I do what I can to help whoever I can. I’m the giver. I’m the caretaker.”
So when she recently found out that she was the recipient of a huge gift — a new roof — she was floored.
‘We look out for each other’
During the winter, Cindy Vaughn has taken strangers into her home and warmed them up with a cup of coffee or soup.
“That’s just who we are,” she said.
She tries to get to know anyone who passes by their home, including those at the nearby bus stop, and believes that is why they don’t have any trouble with “bad people.” She is kind — but she is firm.
“They know that I’ll step out on the porch and watch to see what they’re doing to make sure that they’re not doing something bad,” she said. “I don’t hesitate to confront them: ‘You’re not going to do that here. Or, do you need some help with something?’ And usually if you befriend them, they’re less likely to offend your property or you. Sometimes a little caring goes a long way.”
The Vaughns have been married for 32 years, and have lived in Federal Way for over 30 years in the same house where Cindy Vaughn’s parents lived. They raised two daughters here, and then Cindy Vaughn left her career to take over the duties of being a grandma.
She has four grandchildren — none of them have ever been in a daycare, she said, noting she has taken care of all of her grandchildren before and after school, in addition to other neighborhood kids.
“That’s part of the community,” said Cindy Vaughn, 65. “We know all of our neighbors; our neighbors know all of us. We look out for each other.”
Pat Vaugh, 66, said the first time he met Studtmann was when she was stranded in a Fred Meyer parking lot with her broken down Volkswagen.
“I was out getting the wood, and [Cindy] steps out and says, ‘Get the truck and jumper cables and head to Fred Meyer, Mary’s Volkswagen won’t start,” he recalled.
“They had to jump me so many times,” Studtmann laughed.
Cindy Vaughn has even helped Studtmann with an unwanted house guest when she sucked a spider off the wall with a vacuum.
“She’s totally done it, a massive spider,” Studtmann said.
She also makes lactation cookies for new mothers.
“Yeah, they’re delicious too,” Studtmann said of Cindy Vaughn’s no-bake cookies made of chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal, flaxseed meal, brewers yeast, butter and sugar. She keeps a solid supply of her cookies in the freezer and has handed out baggies of them over the past couple of years to mothers in the community who need some breastfeeding help, including a mother who did tandem nursing.
Karisa Ridgeway met the Vaughns one winter night when her husband was out of town and their furnace went out. She asked the online group for a heater to put in her then-toddler’s room.
She said the Vaughns not only allowed her to use their heater — they brought it to her at 8 p.m.
“I knew right then and there I already loved her,” Ridgeway said of Cindy Vaughn.
As she got to know the Vaughns, Ridgeway learned “how selfless they are, how much they go above and beyond to help everyone, no matter if they are the neighbor, someone on the side of the road, or their kids. They will quite literally give you the shirt off the back (I’ve seen it),” she said in an email.
Ridgeway also learned about the couple’s hardships.
Issues under the roof
All of a sudden the Vaughns heard a noise one day.
They discovered that part of the roof above Cindy Vaughn’s craft room had collapsed, due to the weight of a satellite dish. She points to the ceiling, where a makeshift roof made out of some tarp has kept the rain and snow out of their home for the past couple of years.
“We’ve had some health issues that we’re dealing with. And it just seemed like, we’ll get to it, we’ll get to it,” Cindy Vaughn said of their roof.
Two years ago, she had an aneurysm that burst in her brain and was rushed to Harborview Medical Center.
“We got there and they had to drill a hole at the top of her head to relieve the pressure,” Pat Vaughn recalled. “And they informed us that fifty percent of the people who have what she had don’t survive. Fifty percent of those who survive don’t walk or talk from then on. What do you want us to do?”
He responded to doctors: “Just don’t take my baby,” he said, crying. “So they did their thing, and I got her.”
Cindy said she is currently doing “wonderful” and while she does have some sensory issues, she doesn’t have any problems with her memory.
But her husband has also been battling health issues since he was diagnosed with bladder cancer in July 2013. Since then, he’s had 12 surgeries, the most recent one on March 15.
“I have to take care of him, he’s got bladder cancer. Pick one,” Cindy Vaughn said of all their hardships. “You know, the roof with the tarp on it — it’s doing OK. That’s the least of our worries.”
Her husband said he recently went in to find out what was causing his acid reflux, but before doctors could do the procedure, they realized he had atrial fibrillation.
“I was always told when I was a kid, ‘God won’t give you anymore than you can handle.’ And when [the nurse] said that I was like, ‘Have you got the right address?’” He asked God, laughing. “I’ve got enough … So that kicked me back just a little bit. But fingers crossed, maybe next week. I’ve been saying that since March 15.”
Pat Vaughn, who works in construction, has been waiting for his health to improve before he is able to go back to work.
Last December, Ridgeway sent out a message to the local Facebook community: “God put something on my heart. I want to get Cindy and Pat a roof. No matter what it takes.”
She described that she knows what a burden it is to not be able to afford to fix something, and to be worried every time there is a storm.
“It’s a terrible time that we live in, when we have to decide between medical costs and basic human needs, including home repair, which they had to do,” Ridgeway wrote. “They couldn’t afford their roof replacement and their medical costs and with medical needs piling on top of them, they wouldn’t ever be able to.”
God listened — and sent his guardian angels.
When Ridgeway sent out her message rallying the community to help the Vaughns get a new roof, Kelly Waters, a member of the online group who works for Auburn-based Guardian Roofing, suggested she nominate the Vaughns for the company’s Halo Project. The project donates one new roof or major roof repair to a local homeowner in need, based on nominations from the community.
For its inaugural year, Guardian Roofing announced their roof giveaway on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, said Morgan Roth, executive assistant of Guardian, a full-service residential contractor business for repairs, replacements and roof projects that was founded in 2005.
Clients and community members were invited to nominate deserving households in the King and Pierce county areas for the Halo Project. Through social media and Guardian’s website, the nominations poured in.
“We sent it out there into the universe,” Roth said. “We got a lot of nominations back, but we got a lot of nominations for this woman named Cindy Lu Vaughn.”
The Vaughns received more than 30 nominations from Federal Way, Northeast Tacoma and Brown’s Point residents, Roth said. The Vaughns were announced as winners of the giveaway on Jan. 1.
“They really are the grandparents of the neighborhood. All their community really rallied around them … ” Roth said.
Cindy Vaughn was in disbelief when she found out.
“It was like, wait, what? You know, you don’t win anything,” she said. “And, what are the next steps? What are the strings attached here? It’s just unbelievable.”
Guardian Roofing officials surveyed the Vaughn’s property in January, to which they were also met with Cindy Vaughn’s warm hugs and saw firsthand the family’s generosity, Roth said.
The Vaughn’s home has a fairytale appearance, looking similar to a whimsical cabin from a folk story, Roth described. Their pantry and closets are filled with extra food, tools, or clothes to give to the neighborhood.
“It’s like a storehouse,” Roth said. “It’s stuff that is there for her community to use. Someone could come in and say ‘Cindy, I need this,’ and she will give it to them.”
As Lori Swanson, owner of Guardian Roofing, surveyed the former roof during winter, she asked Cindy Vaughn if she had preferences on Guardian’s roofing ideas for the new roof.
She simply said it’s completely up to Guardian and that they will take whatever they are given, Roth recalled.
“They’re both equally kind,” Roth said of the couple’s matter-of-fact attitude toward generosity. Any signs of self-importance are nowhere to be found. “Cindy particularly has a heart of gold … she kind of embodies basic humanity.”
The Halo Project puts Guardian Roofing’s compassion into action — just as the Vaughn’s have done for their community.
“As much as she’s helped them, the community is helping her,” Roth said.
For the business, this donation extends a helping hand back into the community that helped raise them up from the beginning.
Guardian Roofing got their “big break” during the winter of 2006 when the Puget Sound area was hit with the Hanukkah Eve windstorm, Roth said. This major windstorm caused trees to topple onto houses, destroying roofs, and left thousands without power for up to a week.
Despite the disaster, this was Guardian Roofing’s moment to shine.
“This area is really the neighborhood that helped Guardian take off. We received a lot of jobs through this area,” Roth said. “It’s really unique that we are able to give back to this neighborhood that allowed us to become what we are today.”
Removal of the Vaughn’s old roof began on Monday. Guardian Roofing received generous donations for this project such as shingles and roofing paper from Owens Corning. A majority of Guardian’s roofing employees have also volunteered their time and expertise for the project.
Completion of the Vaughn’s new roof is planned for Saturday, May 11, and the community is invited to come celebrate from 8 a.m. to noon.
“They are our guardians at this point in time,” Cindy Vaughn said of Guardian Roofing. “It’s a blessing.”