17 January 2011

A New Beginning

McIntosh Family Photo

Karen McIntosh and her children, Matthew and Meagan.

Story from Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

CORNWALL — For the first time, Karen McIntosh has a home that gives both her children space and independence.

For five years, the mother of two lived in a three-storey duplex with an autistic son and teenage daughter.

On Saturday, Habitat for Humanity officially handed over a brand new house to her care.

“It’s drastic,” she said of the change. “The stress level goes way down.”

Before, she had to monitor Matthew nearly everywhere he went. Though the 13-year-old currently spends most of his time at a therapeutic home in Ottawa, when he is in Cornwall he is now free to roam the new residence and fenced-in area behind.

“I can give him so much independence,” said Karen. “The backyard is safe for him now.”

The benefits aren’t just for her son, however.

“For Meagan, too,” said Karen of her 16-year-old girl. “Now she has her own space.”

Habitat officials were thrilled to hand McIntosh the keys to the third house they constructed in 2010 -they usually only have funds for two per year.

“This house was not going to be,” said Frances Lauzon, volunteer administrator of the Seaway Valley Habitat branch. “Exit (Realty International) donated $100,000.”

“We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to do,” said Richard Abell, chair of the family selection committee. “Community support . . . is the only thing that makes it happen.”

More than 30 sponsors pooled resources to see the house completed, and roughly 20 volunteers started putting hammer to nail in September at the St. Antoine Street site.

McIntosh said it was a little overwhelming to choose things like paint colours and flooring for the entire house, but was left truly speechless by the end result of all of the hours of work.

“You don’t know how good the city is until you see what they do to help,” she said. “Thanks isn’t enough.”

Though McIntosh was offered the house with no down payment and no construction bills, she will be taking on all of the regular costs: insurance, mortgage payments and other expenses.

She works full-time at the Upper Canada District School Board and also put in 300 hours of “sweat equity” at the Habitat ReStore -all recipients are required to give back to the organization in some way before they are given a deed.

Abell said there are seven or eight families that apply for a home each year, but he would like to see more.

“We’re hoping to expand that,” he said, adding that more publicity could mean new volunteers and sponsors to help additional families each year. “We’d like more people to have more opportunities to put their name in.”

Abell said it usually takes four to six weeks for the committee to choose a recipient ; they have already decided on two families for the 2011 homes.

One house will be built just around the corner from McIntosh’s brand new residence this coming spring, and the other will go up in Williamsburg.

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