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Hundreds help build new home for Jamie

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Cathy Dobson  

When word spread that Jamie Stewart needed a new house that could accommodate his wheelchair, people from all over Sarnia-Lambton pitched in to help.

Friends and family held fundraisers. Tradesmen offered skills free-of-charge. Complete strangers showed up on the driveway with cash.

It became a real community project.

“A guy around the corner who hardly knows me came over and handed me $1,000 and told me to put it toward a new fridge that I could use with my wheelchair,” said Stewart.

“Another guy just handed me $500. Some ladies even made me a quilt that I use when my legs are cold. People gave what they could. Whether it was $50 or $150, it is really, really appreciated,” he said.

“I am so grateful.”

The new house on Beckwith Street in Corunna. Cathy Dobson
The new house on Beckwith Street in Corunna.
Cathy Dobson

A year after his old house on Beckwith Street in Corunna was demolished, the 45-year-old quadriplegic has a new two-bedroom, accessible home on the same lot with efficiencies and conveniences to make his life easier.

Stewart is not one to ask for help, said his sister Terri Neely.

“He’s always been independent.” Accepting that so many people want to give to him has been both difficult and life changing.

Last year, the condition of the old house had deteriorated to the point Stewart lost sleep worrying about how he could repair the sinking foundation and leaky roof.

He is a boilermaker but has been unable to work since he breaking his neck in a diving accident nearly 20 years ago.

His small income doesn’t allow for major maintenance and his house was literally crumbling around him.

That’s when his sister happened to talk with Teresa Bakker at a bible study where prayers were offered for Jamie.

Neely explains Teresa approached her afterward and said, “You know what my husband and I do, don’t you?”

The Bakkers own Peter Bakker Design & Build in Watford.

When Peter assessed Stewart’s house he concluded that, if most of the labour and materials were donated, a complete rebuild would cost the same as a renovation. Bakker voluntarily drew up the blueprints for a new house and began working with Neely to assemble a team of volunteers.

Friends Mark and Stephanie McCabe took a big role and neighbour Wayne MacDonald opened his home so Stewart had a place to live during construction.

In June 2016, a small crowd gathered with Stewart on his front lawn and watched as Bakker pulled down the house with his excavator.

“After that, it took off like wildfire,” said Neely.

“People came from all over to donate materials and help build.

“We never planned for this. It just happened and it happened because of people’s goodness.”

The open concept house was ready by October for Stewart to move in. Enough money was raised to purchase a bed with a ceiling track and lift, install a barrier-free washroom and buy a stove with knobs on the front so Stewart can reach them and cook his own meals. Kitchen countertops are low for accessibility. Windows are lower than usual so he can see out and the outside doors open automatically with the push of a button.

For the first time, Stewart had a home large enough to be able to host his family at Christmas.

“I’m a bit of a Christmas freak and the most emotional thing for me was bringing Jamie a tree and having Christmas in his home,” said Neely.  “It couldn’t have happened in the old house.”

Neely and Stewart estimate 80% of the construction was done by about 200 volunteers and the majority of the materials were sold to them at cost.

Stewart credits his sister for spearheading the project. Neely praises Bakker for getting it rolling.

Once the driveway is finished and a front ramp is built, they intend to have an open house so the community can see the results.

“We want everyone to know how much their help is appreciated and to see what they donated to,” said Neely.





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