ARICHAT: Those who worked to build a new facility on Isle Madame for adults with special needs gathered last week for a celebration.
On June 6, the employees, residents, volunteers, and funding partners of the brand new HEARTS of Isle Madame Home in Arichat celebrated its grand opening with speeches, a ribbon cutting, food, music, and public tours.
Opening the event was Community Services Minister Kelly Reagan who noted her department spent just over $500,000 to renovate the building, making it the first small option home in Nova Scotia to meet her government’s new accessibility standards.
Under director Kelly Hibbert, the 13 staff of the home are responsible for four permanent residents, who live on the ground floor, since the top floor is not yet finished. This floor includes a large kitchen-dining room-living room space, as well as bathrooms, a laundry room, and office and storage space, in addition to four dorms.
In congratulating the board and staff for their work, Reagan pointed to the efforts of former Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Michel Samson who lobbied his colleagues to support the project which was announced prior to the 2017 election.
Current Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon agreed that her predecessor played an important role in the facility receiving government support. She noted that having such a facility right in the community is very important.
“I would also like to thank the former MLA for Cape Breton-Richmond, Michel [Samson], for being here with us,” Paon told the over-flowing crowd. “He was very instrumental in getting this project off the ground so it’s always extremely important to give credit where credit is due.”
Richmond Deputy Warden Alvin Martell extended congratulations to the home’s stakeholders on behalf of the Municipality of the County of Richmond, especially HEARTS of Isle Madame Disability Society board members Barbara MacNeil and Claude Landry.
“They were very diligent in doing what they did to bring this to fruition,” Martell said. “Today your dreams have a reality. Congratulations!”
Former MLA and cabinet minister Michel Samson took time to thank Les Filles de Jesus order.
“What they were able to achieve and the amount of money that this building was sold for, at the end of the day, is thanks to the Les Filles de Jesus,” Samson told the crowd.
In addition to the many volunteers who helped make the facility a reality, Samson took time to highlight the contributions of the MacNeil family.
“Certainly Barb, Dr. Laurie, Scott, Stephen, the entire family, you’ve really left your make on this community and what a legacy to leave behind, of having such an establishment,” he noted. “People will never know the time that you put in, the financial resources that were sacrificed personally to make this reality.”
Samson described how he continued to lobby his colleagues even after being defeated at the polls two years ago and despite the moratorium placed on the construction of such facilities.
“One of the toughest things when you transition from politics is letting go,” Samson said. “But you always want to see projects that you put some time in, that the community has supported, to become a reality.”
For her part, Barbara MacNeil thanked the provincial government for its assistance, particularly the director of disability services, Randy Acker, and disability support program specialist Cynthia Boutillier.
MacNeil recalled how the municipality was the first to help, providing the society with funding and a mentor to undertake a business plan to construct the facility. She also pointed to the efforts of engineer Joe Janega, as well as Gail Hearn with Oceanview Drafting. Hubert David of HBJ Contracting worked closely with the society over the past six years, she noted.
MacNeil noted that none of this would have taken place without the efforts of Les Filles de Jesus who sold the building for $25,000 even though its market value was $250,000. She noted that the property is now worth more than $1 million after renovations.
“We will be forever grateful because we know that a lot of people in the community would have loved to have this home for other uses, for other things, and it would have been probably wonderful for them, but it’s amazing for us.”
In addition to other individuals who gave their time, knowledge and skills, MacNeil added that it was the support of the community – in the forms of donations and fundraisers – which put this project over-the-top.
“This building is the HEARTS of Isle Madame, but I think from the minute somebody in the community heard us whisper about it, Isle Madame became the HEARTS of Isle Madame,” MacNeil told the crowd. “Because every corner, every person on Isle Madame supported us.”