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‘Community in action’ builds new home for mothers

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Kathleen Wilson walked up the front walk of a house at the end of Charles Street in Fredericksburg accompanied by her friend and realtor Kimberly Martelon. Mary’s Shelter, an organization that provides temporary housing and help for mothers and their children, got the go-ahead from their board to start searching for another house to buy and Wilson was determined to find one. 

The five-bedroom house’s white pillared porch overflowed with charm. Inside was a different story. 

The pair stood on the threshold gazing at a completely gutted, in some places damaged and destroyed, interior with no electricity, heating, air conditioning or running water. Wires hung from the ceiling and there was evidence of squatters living on the second floor. It only took a moment for Wilson, founder and director of Mary's Shelter in Fredericksburg, to make up her mind. “It’s perfect,” she said.

After Martelon picked her jaw off the floor, she said, “OK, we will get this started and my husband Kevin will be your volunteer contractor.”

They closed on the house June 28 and by July, renovations began. True to her word, Kevin, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg and a home inspector, coordinated the renovation. Like Wilson, he could see the potential.

“I loved it,” said Kevin. “I would have bought it if they hadn’t.” 

Thanks to the close relationship he has with his team, he was able to bring in many professionals and craftsmen who worked for a discount or at no cost. It also helped that Kevin understood mothers would be living there.

“Growing up, I had a single mother so I see the value in what this organization does,” said Kevin. “They can come here and get their life on track and help them with their future it is very gratifying.” 

In addition to the professional work, a small army of able-bodied volunteers donated their time and treasure to the renovation. Mary’s Shelter’s Facebook page was constantly posting pictures of new groups coming in to work. St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School’s hockey team cleaned floors, raked, weeded, scrubbed sheds and painted furniture. 

Summit Academy in Fredericksburg pulled up old floor tiling in preparation for another group to install new flooring. Mary’s Shelter President Mark Ivory spent Labor Day weekend painting the whole downstairs.

The renovation took about three months and the result was a beautiful house completed on time and under budget.

“This has been a community in action,” said Wilson. “Every day people show up and do. I don’t even know where they come from. They fall out of heaven.” 

The community’s charity didn’t stop when renovations were completed, continuing preparations for Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s visit to bless the house.  

“Heather Sutherland just came up and asked if she could organize all the food for the event,” said Wilson. “I didn’t even have to ask her. She just volunteered.”

Sutherland, who works in the criminal justice system, said she sees the impact when Mary’s Shelter gets involved. “I like that the whole family is here. It’s very rewarding to see just a little bit of progress in somebody,” said Sutherland.

Close to 200 people crowded on the front lawn on Charles Street Oct. 26 as Bishop Burbidge blessed the newest Mary’s Shelter home, which is now picture-perfect both inside and out. 

“The house is absolutely incredible,” said Bishop Burbidge. “What I really love about this ministry is we are not only trying to give them a house, but a home. I think from the first moment they walk in the door it will be home for them because it has been built with so much love.”

During the ceremony, Wilson introduced 10-year-old Auri Sandoval, one of seven children who will live in the house with their mothers. 

“When Auri first saw the house it had no walls, nothing, but she said, ‘I love it, it’s a barbie house.’ So, we made sure she got a room here,” said Wilson.

Sandoval will share a room with her brother, Junior, on the first floor next to her mom and little sister. The first floor also has a guest room, bathroom, kitchen, dining room and a large living room. Two more mothers will live in the bedrooms upstairs with their children. There is a breakfast area at the top of the stairs with a refrigerator, sink and table so the moms can make breakfast for their kids before getting ready for work. The house also has a full basement, not to mention a beautiful view of Canal Park. 

Yaribel Jimenec is one of the new residents in the house. Before coming to Mary’s Shelter six months ago she was homeless with her two children and one on the way. 

“Being able to live in this house means a lot,” said Jimenec. “This is a sign of hope. That even when you are technically homeless you still get to live in a dream house. It’s a blessing.”

One of the last parts of the house that Bishop Burbidge blessed during Saturday’s event was a small memorial garden dedicated to Conor Jerome Gardner, the infant son of the Gardner family who passed away Jan. 24. The garden serves as a reminder of Mary’s Shelter’s mission to give mothers in crisis the support they need to bring their children into the world. 

The Charles Street home will continue to help more mothers. It is the second house that Mary’s Shelter owns in addition to their office and rooms they rent on Princess Ann Street. Their dream is to someday own all their homes. If the Charles Street renovation is any indication, when it comes to Mary’s Shelter and their team of donors and volunteers, dreams do come true. 

Kassock is a freelancer from Stafford.




© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019