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  • Writer's pictureGreater Springfield Habitat for Humanity

Monson single mother battling cancer benefits from home preservation program

Crystal said she is not used to asking for help. She is the helper. She gives to others. Period. But when Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) offered assistance to improve the function and quality of her home, it was not an opportunity Crystal could refuse. Today, as Crystal watches a construction crew go to work on the final phase of a two-part project, she said she is grateful and overjoyed.

Tom Silva, of Triple S Construction, builds a deck off to the side of the main entryway.

“I’m so excited. This is so exciting,” said the single mother of three teenage daughters.

After all, it’s been a challenging year.

Crystal thought she finally caught a break when the newly-divorced mother refinanced their Western Massachusetts Cape Cod-style home, which she has lived in for just more than a decade. But the moment was short lived. Four months later, in early February 2021, Crystal received a stage 3 Merkel cell carcinoma (a rare form of skin cancer) diagnosis. To battle the disease affecting her right arm, Crystal endured several surgeries and five weeks of five days-a-week radiation treatments in Boston. She asked for leniency from her mortgage company as she navigated her way through state-issued Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and other support opportunities; but was denied. When the PFML ended, Crystal worked three days a week and used vacation time to support herself, her daughters, and the $28-a-day expense it cost her in tolls and gas to commute to Boston from Monson for treatment.

Desperate, afraid, and uncertain of what the future held for her and her girls, Crystal reached out to a variety of contacts and organizations for long- and short-term aid. An acquaintance suggested GSHFH’s Home Preservation Program. Knowing her home needed repairs that she hasn’t been able to financially tackle and worried about what she may need if the cancer worsens, Crystal reached out.

Greater Springfield Habitat assessed the home and necessary repairs this past spring and devised a two-part plan. First, and in the weeks that followed, the Habitat construction crew replaced the linoleum and carpet throughout the entryway, living room, kitchen, and hallway with wood laminate. Crystal, who also lives with a neurological disorder that has weakened the right side of her body, said the change in flooring often presented a tripping hazard. As a result, she’s broken several bones in both feet. The new flooring offers a consistent smooth surface throughout the downstairs living area.

“The Habitat Home Preservation Program is here to help folks just like Crystal,” said Deborah O’Mara, GSHFH Family Services manager. “She is a hardworking single mother who is doing her best to provide for her family but she just doesn’t have the extra resources to pay for needed home repairs. The interior work done by our Habitat construction crew and the exterior work being done by Triple S Construction will enable Crystal and her daughters to live comfortably and securely in their home for many years to come.”

Part two of the project began Oct. 12 when Triple S Construction began working on the exterior projects. The company, which has worked on Greater Springfield Habitat projects in the past, will replace three exterior doors, and the decking and stairs to the front and side entryway. They will also widen the side entryway so should Crystal need to put down groceries she’s carrying into the house, there’s space for her to do that.

“Greater Springfield Habitat is an amazing resource and I’m very fortunate to have discovered it,” Crystal said. “Long-term, this is a huge help. I don’t know when I would have had the extra money to do these projects or incur the expenses. I was just getting by.”


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