Over the past two weeks a home in Blackfalds has been a beehive of activity.
Tradesmen have been entering the family home to install new plumbing and dry wall. Carpenters have been working furiously on the back deck for an expansion. Painters have carefully coated the walls with brightly-coloured paint, anticipating the look on the children’s faces when they will see their redesigned bedrooms.
This may sound like a normal renovation on any family home, but this project is special and it lies with the worker bees – the yellow shirt-wearing volunteers – who are a part of the activity at the site.
All of the people are the volunteers of A Better World (ABW) Neighbours Project, a local life-changing renovation project led by the Lacombe-based international charity.
They are renovating the home of the McGregors, a loving five-member family that has carried a burden over the past few years — finding a home that will accommodate their daughter, Katharina, 10, who suffers from a rare and neurodegenerative disease called Niemann-Pick Type C.
“With the disease, as it progresses, she will lose all ability and she will be wheelchair-bound,” said Katharina’s mother Terese McGregor. “With our house, it’s bi-level. We can’t get her in and I’ve had back surgery so I can’t lift her in, especially in a big heavy wheelchair. These renovations mean we can keep living in our house essentially where that wasn’t an option before.”
McGregor said finding a home that has the correct wheelchair access and needs for Katharina was, “Next to impossible.
“We’ve been looking for three years and we can’t find anything,” she said. “We love our home and we want her to stay here and we are so excited to be able to have everything we need. There is no way we could have done it ourselves.”
Katharina currently attends school in Red Deer and does have some mobility without the aid of a wheelchair.
“The doctors have told us for three years now that seizures will start and once they start, everything will kind of slip away,” said Terese. “It could be tomorrow. So we’ve been kind of been waiting for it.”
The McGregors were nominated for ABW’s Neighbours Project by last year’s receiving family — a renovation, including upgrades to the bathroom, doorways and the livingroom, was completed on the home of a young girl who has a chromosomal disorder to assist the family for her care.
“The process to be selected for the Neighbours Project is either people can apply or they can be nominated,” explained ABW Neighbours Project Coordinator Ronda Ziakris. “This family was nominated actually by the family that was our 2014 recipient. The recipient family, they live in Red Deer and we did something similar for them last year.”
On June 6th, the renovations on the McGregor’s home got underway. The McGregors are taking a two-week hiatus from their home during the exciting renovation. During this time, which they are spending with family, they are being kept somewhat in the dark about what exactly is going on in their home, as to leave it as a surprise.
“We don’t know a whole bunch,” said Terese. “It will all be a surprise for me. All I know it that we will be able to get her in the house and we will be able to bathe her, which is huge.”
Close to 100 volunteers, from all walks of life, will visit the site over the renovation period to help complete the project.
“We are making the home accessible for their 10-year-old daughter,” said Ziakris of the project. “It includes a brand new accessible bathroom, installing a lift to get her into the home. It includes a main floor laundry room and a new bedroom for Katharina and her brothers.”
The newly designed bedrooms will feature a Frozen theme for Katharina and downstairs a Super Mario Brothers theme for her two brothers.
The critical piece of the renovation, the wheelchair lift that will give Katharina access to her home, will be installed on the now expanded back deck. The lift, like all of the supplies and volunteer time, was donated by another caring family.
The Neighbours Project is a local division of ABW that assists Central Albertans.
“The reason that ABW does this type of thing is that for 25 years we have been working in developing countries and that is crucially important,” said Ziakris. “Five years ago we realized there are people right here at home that need help as well. From ABW’s perspective, when we can be reaching people here on our doorstep, that’s why this is called Neighbours.”
For Terese and her family, this renovation is everything, a true life-changing moment.
“It’s the difference of being able to do this or not,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Neighbours, I don’t know what we would be doing. It’s truly a blessing.”
The McGregor family will return to their newly-renovated home on Monday.