CHICOPEE – Wanted: volunteers who like a challenge.
At the end of View Street sits a house that needs a lot of love. On the afternoon of Oct. 26, Reminder Publications was given a tour of the future home of Harmony House of Western Massachusetts that has to be gutted due to its current condition.
“I feel so joyful after all these years,” said Ruth Willemain, founder of Harmony House. “The vision is becoming a reality.”
Since 2004, Willemain, now age 80, has been steadfast in her drive of having a home for the terminally ill.
“Throughout many years as a hospice and nursing home volunteer, I came to know the fears of the terminally ill through their words and tears,” she said. “One of the greatest human fears is of dying alone.”
Her vision is to create an “oasis of peace, dignity and respect,” in a home setting where loving, gentle and compassionate care is given to those who lack a willing and able primary caregiver or the financial resources to hire one.
Of course, Willemain has had an army of volunteers over the years conducting fundraisers who have also believed in the need for Harmony House.
“I feel blessed to have had such a wonderful board of directors, as well as many generous donors, who have made this day possible,” said Willemain.
Harmony House board members who have been especially instrumental in the final stages of acquiring the foreclosed property include Jeanne St. Pierre, Jeri Bachli, Ph.D., David Tetreault, Judith Trudell, Susan Allbrecht Pease, Paul Peloquin, attorney Crystal Barnes, Ann Messinger and Jacqueline LeHoullier.
“They represent the ethnic diversity of Western Massachusetts and provide the foundation upon which Harmony House will be built as an enduring legacy,” said Willemain.
The house needs approximately $150,000 in renovations, according to Tetreault, who will also coordinate the logistics for refurbishing the house. With 30 years of experience in the construction field, Willemain is “thankful” for Tetreault’s skills on a job site.
“We are in great need for qualified volunteers including architects, roofers, plumbers, framers, electricians, contractors, masons and painters,” said Tetreault.
During the tour, it was apparent from the smell of mold to every nook and cranny that needs attention, the job will be challenging but not impossible.
Businesses, organizations or individuals who might also consider lending a hand could donate windows, roof materials, drywall, doors, hardware, lumber, boilers, plumbing, flooring, paint, dumpsters, or moldings. The house will also need a water heater, generator, front door, electrical supplies, insulation, appliances, kitchen cabinets, bath fixtures, heat registers, central air conditioning, clean chimneys and a handicap tub.
Additionally, the 1.35-acre lot will need some tender loving lawn care.
Willemain has done her homework over the years and said a Harmony House survey revealed a significant average number of dying people (21 per month or 252 per year) leave their homes due to unmet needs for caregivers and/or living arrangements.
“Demand for end-of-life care, already increasing in Massachusetts, is soaring especially with the growing number of patients who live alone or without adequate caregiver support,” she said. “Harmony House will reflect an abiding Christian sense of ministry, serving individuals without regard to gender, creed, or national origin.”
Through the renovation process the future home will be comprised of bedrooms, bathrooms, a living room, country kitchen, a non-denominational chapel, dining area with seating for residents and visitors, staff offices, and a laundry.
Persons who would like to make a donation to the 501(c) 3 corporation may do so via its Facebook page, GoFundMe, or by visiting www.harmonyhousewma.org for more information. All contributions will be acknowledged through various social media outlets.
“It is our sincere hope that area residents across Western Massachusetts will consider joining our humanitarian effort to respect those living their last weeks or days of their life journey with the respect and compassion that honors the dignity of each individual,” said Willemain. “Harmony House will provide comfort and security and give the emotional, spiritual and physical support that only ‘home’ can provide.”