It’s one thing to work outside in the cold. It’s another to have no heat inside your home. No warmth when your head hits the pillow at the end of a long day at work.
Sheila, a Highland Park grandmother and veteran of the United States army, found herself in that exact position as this week’s arctic blast rolled in.
The army veteran, who didn’t want to use her last name, is the head of a household with eight kids to look after including a 21-year-old with cerebral palsy.
“One of the other twins has special needs too,” said Sheila, explaining that the kids aren’t all hers.
She’s taken in kids off the street hoping to give them better lives. She succeeded in that, but life threw her plenty of other screwballs along the way. Sheila nearly found herself homeless a few years back. She worked hard and moved into Section 8 housing, eventually she bought a home in Highland Park hoping to turn the fixer-upper into a dream home for her kids.
The work was more than she could bare. She fell off the roof trying to paint the exterior and injured herself. She turned for help and found plumbers charging high prices for small amounts of work, she was questioning everything about her decision to buy the home.
“It’s not tearing me down though,” said Sheila. “I didn’t work my way up to Staff Sergeant from accepting the bad.”
Recently Sheila had to come to term with two major issues inside her home. She has a sewage problem that’s leaving a smell throughout the house. Her heat wasn’t working, and a technician had already told her there was no chance in bringing her older-style boiler back to life.
“Look what happened!” said Sheila, laughing as she pointed to a heating and cooling technician wrenching on her boiler system. “I’ve got real heat! Yes I do.”
She couldn’t afford the repairs, which is why the “Love a Michigan Vet Project” stepped in to help out. Originally, the group planned to give her a new gas furnace through Carrier. Instead, when they showed up and saw her setup they realized it wouldn’t work. It seemed like she had struck out again, but this time no one was willing to give up.
“We’re just really glad we can help,” said Eric Borkowski from Ehlers Heating & Air Conditioning. “Sheila needed a furnace repair and we want to make that happen.”
Borkowski said that his business is going to do the repairs free of charge, and they still plan to put the donated furnace to use in a second home helping yet another veteran that’s hit hard times.
“This is like a miracle,” said Sheila. “This is what you would call a Christmas miracle. That’s what it feels like, a Christmas miracle.”
If she thought she was dealing with a Christmas miracle before, imagine how she felt when Borkowski broke the news that the “Love a Michigan Vet Project” was also working with a plumbing company to bring someone in to fix her sewage problem too.
Tears began to stream down her face. The tough Army veteran was happy before, now she was grateful to the point of bursting at the seams.
Through tears she threw her arms around Borkowski thanking him over and over again, before she broke away and told him exactly how she felt.
“This is what a natural high feels like,” she said returning to a laugh, as she continued to wipe away tears. “For real. This has got to be it. Oh man! I’m going to be warm.”
She looked around the room as if it wasn’t real before reacting to the latest news, “It ain’t going to be stinky!”
“No it won’t” said Borkowski.
“I’ll be able to smell the apple pie!” said Sheila, already excited to bring the home to life come Christmas.
Sheila said that this is important for her kids to see. She wants them to know that life has it’s ups and downs, but that good people exist in this world.
“I need them to know that there are people out here that will help you when you’re down on your luck,” said Sheila. “I didn’t really believe that for some time a couple of years ago. I do now.”