From the outside, the house looked no different than its neighbours. Nobody walking by two weeks ago would have guessed that the interior walls of the red-brick bungalow were covered with mould, the garbage was piled in every room; the foundation was cracked, the roof leaking and nearly every appliance was broken. No one could have known that the family inside the house had been living without running water since July and had just had their oil cut off.
This was the situation for Kim De Freitas, her daughter Sable and her grandchildren James and Jasmine. Hampered by poverty and abandoned by other relatives; the close-knit family saw the state of their house get progressively and depressingly worse over the last five years. De Freitas lost several jobs because she had to constantly care for her nine-year-old granddaughter, who has spinal bifida. She was also in danger of losing her grandchildren, inspite of all of her love for these children and her best efforts. “She was told, ‘Despite that you’re doing a fabulous job looking after (the children), they cannot be living in this condition,’” said Rose Vetere, a social worker with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.
Moved by De Freitas’ humility and dedication to her family, Vetere arranged to have their arrears paid off. However, they didn’t qualify for home insurance and with the family heading into winter with no heat or water, the situation was desperate. That’s when an e-mail about Walls of Hope landed in Vetere’s inbox. She wrote our organization and told us of De Freitas’ plight.
After 4 months of planning and co-ordinating by the leadership team, and during one very action-packed week, the project was completed. More than 50 volunteers (including some professional trades people) took over the sagging bungalow and completed what ended up being a $100,000+ renovation. The largest budget and biggest project in Walls of Hope’s history.
“If you’d have been here on Monday, you would absolutely be blown away by how it looks today,” said landscaper Rick Vernon, who helped clear the lot of trash, uproot the shoulder-high weeds and plant flowers to brighten the exterior. In seven days, with pictures of the original house taped to the wall for inspiration; volunteer workers managed to replace the broken front door and the leaking roof, put up new soffits and eaves troughs, lay new floors, install a new kitchen and bathrooms, and finish everything with a colourful coat of paint.
“I can see a great difference! Some of the walls had so much mould on them…it was not a good sight. But now it’s wonderful! They’re going to be so excited,” said Jacob Metlin, a seventh-grader who knows Jasmine from school and worked at the site all week, including “reveal day” on Sunday.
As the family was coming up the walk, Jacob scrubbed dirt off the white front hall floor with his bare hands, to make his friend’s first impression of her new home perfect. “The most amazing people in the world built this house,” said Walls of Hope founder Sera Mansueto, dressed in black overalls splattered with paint from many previous jobs. “It’s like an old-style barn raising,” marvelled Ward 11 Councillor George Carlson.
The De Freitas’ themselves wore shocked expressions as they toured their new home. The kids raced ahead to their bedrooms while Kim admired her spacious kitchen and dining room. Walls of Hope volunteers followed behind her, sharing in the joy. “I’ve got superheroes!” cried James as he flew back around the corner, already dressed in his green costume and cape, provided by Walls of Hope. “There are so many people here!” marvelled Jasmine, admiring the pink post bed and lace curtains in her “princess room.” Kim slowly took in the new washer and dryer, flat-screen television, even a treadmill to help with Jasmine’s therapy.
“This is unreal,” she said softly“. I wasn’t expecting all of this. They just said, ‘You won’t recognize your house when you come back,’ and they weren’t kidding!” The health and safety concerns that plagued her old house have vanished – the mold was gone, so she can devote more energy to the kids and their needs, she added. Kim and Sable were both amazed by the generosity of strangers. Before, Sable said, the pervasive mould in the cramped basement ruined her clothes and left her short of breath. “Mould was coming down the walls,” she said, adding that it had been embarrassing to invite friends over. She teared up at the sight of her own closet and en suite bathroom.
The handwritten sign taped to the wall in the front hallway said it all……
“Welcome home, De Freitas family. Welcome home”
“If I didn’t believe in miracles before, I sure do now. It has taken awhile for the enormity of what Walls of Hope has done for us to sink in. I just wish had more phenomenal heroes like Sera Mansueto and the fantastic people at Walls of Hope with their dedication, determination & courage to take on a great challenge that helps better the lives. So when Life throws curve balls at you & you lose control of your life, please never give up because you never know what lies around the corner. ” – Kim DeFreitas (Sept. 2010 WOH Family)