Pictured are Faye (left) and Eileen Power.

ANTIGONISH: Sweetie Pie is scratching at the door waiting to be let in. The calico cat is Faye Power’s “baby” and has been her constant companion for the past 10 years.

When Faye applied to become a tenant in one of the barrier-free units at Riverside Estates her main concern was whether Sweetie Pie would be welcome in the new housing development on Hope Lane. She was relieved to hear her beloved cat could indeed join her in the move.

The first thing you notice about Faye when you meet her is her smile, which is ever present. According to her mother Eileen, it is that smile and Faye’s positive attitude toward her disability that have helped them both accept Faye’s new reality following her stroke 27 years ago.

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Faye had just graduated with a BSc in Biology from StFX in 1989 when an aneurysm, followed by a stroke three days later, changed the course of her life. She couldn’t speak or walk. Faye spent two years in a rehabilitation centre in Halifax before returning to Mulgrave, her home town, to live with her mother. Then in 1997, they moved to Antigonish.

Being “joined at the heart,” Eileen was reluctant to move Faye into a nursing home so they lived together in a small apartment. Eventually, Faye wanted to live on her own and moved into an apartment with the help of her mother and daily Home Care Services.

Faye says she spent 10 years in “la-la-land” before she felt “sane again.” Using a wheelchair or a cane, she worked hard to regain her voice and physical mobility. Her neurosurgeon told Faye she had one of most complicated cases he’d ever seen. The way the blood clot behind her eye entered her brain meant that she would have scattered functioning.

One of the functions Faye didn’t lose was her ability to express herself creatively through painting and photography, favourite hobbies before the stroke. She knew the creative side of her brain was affected, but found the other side compensated so she could continue to pursue her passions. The walls of her new apartment are covered with Faye’s artwork.

After three months in residence, Faye is happy to be living at Riverside Estates.

“No one has ever paid so much attention to the housing needs of people with disabilities before,” she said.

“It is like it was built especially for me. Everything in the apartment is so accessible. I have privacy. I’m not frightened anymore. There is never a problem with noise so I can sleep. I’m also grateful for Carleton, the Community Navigator, who comes by to see how I’m doing.”

Carleton MacNeil was hired by the Antigonish Affordable Housing Society to help tenants access programs and services, and to support them in building a community together. He has noticed a big change in Faye since she moved in.

“The first day she came to see the place she was too scared to move out of her mother’s car,” MacNeil recalled.

“All she wanted to know is whether there would be a place for her cat. She is a different person now. She is walking around more without a cane, doing things for herself, and you can see she is happier, more content.”

Faye’s move to Riverside Estates has not only made a big difference in her life, it has given her mother Eileen peace of mind. She knows she doesn’t have to worry about her daughter anymore.

“Seeing Faye so content is a dream come true after 27 years,” she said.

“She has found a home where she feels safe and secure. I can sleep at night now. And I know if something happens to me, she’s part of a community where she will be looked after.”

It appears Sweetie Pie is also happy with her new accommodations and has already made friends with the neighbourhood cats. For Faye, Riverside Estates is the first place she says she can truly call “home.”

Riverside Estates is an initiative of the Antigonish Affordable Housing Society. The first four units were completed and occupied in April 2017. Another 10 units are planned once funding is secured.