Charmaine and Melody's story
Since Charmaine and Melody welcomed their first son Dakota 12 years ago, they’ve had to move homes nine different times.
Six of those moves were from Ontario to Alberta and back, for Dakota and then their second son Kaleb, now 9 years-old, to receive life-saving medical attention for an extremely rare autoimmune disorder at Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital. Although Dakota and Kaleb are not biologically related, they both astoundingly share the same debilitating condition and need expensive life-sustaining treatment each month.
Tragically, after the birth of Kaleb, Melody also had complications which progressively affected her mobility and left her in a wheelchair. This forced Charmaine to leave her job as a registered nurse and director to care for their young family.
“I had a decision to make after Melody became disabled,” says Charmaine. “I could work 12-16-hour days just to pay for nursing care that left us dead broke and then come home to be a caregiver at night and subsist on two hours of sleep, or I could care for my family myself.”
In their quest for accessible and affordable housing, Charmaine and Melody rented a small cottage-sized house from a friend who allowed them to make accessibility upgrades. But they soon realized that the house wouldn’t work in the long run. Not only was the house located in an unsafe neighbourhood, it only had two bedrooms and major foundational issues. This caused the floor to buckle, which was a safety hazard for Melody. And there were so many areas of the home that Melody couldn’t access with her wheelchair, including the boys’ room.
They decided to apply to Habitat for Humanity Windsor-Essex, after repeated urgings from Charmaine’s mother, and were overcome with joy when months later their application was approved.
“After I got off the phone with Pam from Habitat, Mel started crying, and I started crying,” says Charmaine. “Mel had just fallen in the house the week before and hurt herself, so we needed this.”
But that wasn’t the end of their housing saga. After they found out about the success of their Habitat application, they had to move twice more. The owner of the cottage put the house up for sale and they moved to into a triplex that ended-up being cockroach-infested. “We had to leave everything behind in that place or risk infecting our new home. We lost everything.”
As Habitat homeowners, Melody and Charmaine were required to volunteer 500 hours of their time and pay an affordable mortgage for the fair market value of their home. Ever handy, Charmaine donated close to 300 of those hours on the build sites in their new neighbourhood, while receiving donated hours from friends and the community.
Now in their new Habitat home, the boys are thriving.
“There’s a happiness and lightness about them. We’ve moved them a lot. The saddest part for us as parents is that we could not provide that stability. When children don’t feel rooted, it’s damaging on so many levels,” continues Charmaine. “They refer to things like MY house. MY friends. MY karate class. They never had anything ‘mine’ before. This is MY home. This is MY neighbourhood. They are really holding on that,” adds Melody. “They spend a lot of time dreaming.”
Melody has independence and feels more hopeful. All the rooms in the home are accessible. Habitat Windsor-Essex put a desk in the kitchen so that Melody could help with meal prep, and cabinets were designed to be lowered if needed in the future. “Everything is in my reach. I can contribute to things around the house.”
As for Charmaine, “homeownership has reawakened the dream for me. I can give my family what I have always worked towards. I lost the ability to give my family what they needed.”
“It was such a blessing for Habitat to give us this opportunity that we would not have otherwise had.”