James Shaljian hasn't lived in his family's Mount Sinai home since October.
While his wife and four daughters live, eat and sleep in the small two-bedroom house, Shaljian is sequestered in a one-room cottage in the backyard.
Battling cancer, Shaljian said his doctor told him to get out of the house, where mold that could destroy his delicate immune system permeates the walls.
But thanks to the local community, Shaljian hopes to recuperate with his wife, Christine, and his daughters in a newly renovated house in time for the holidays. Local builders John Williams, who owns Coles Contracting in Mount Sinai, along with Phil DeBlasio and Brian Capo, who own Capo Design Builders of Saint James, have pledged to help the family rebuild the house.
Williams, DeBlasio and Capo are volunteering their time and expertise to demolish and reconstruct the house with help from other community volunteers and benefactors.
"The goal is to get them a new, clean, efficient house," Williams said Monday.
The Shaljians say none of this would be possible without Dorothy Schlosser, a Mount Sinai teacher who befriended Christine Shaljian, who was substitute teaching at her school, Mount Sinai Elementary. Schlosser, 58, of Medford, explained Monday that she was drawn to the family because she lost her husband Gary to lung cancer in 2000.
Schlosser said she nominated the family for the TV show, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." When the family wasn't chosen after having been selected a finalist, Schlosser said, she took it hard. "I felt personally responsible for the hurt the family was feeling," she said.
So she contacted the three builders, who say they have done work on homes featured on the show. "We saw there's enough community support and we don't need an outside company," she said. "I feel it's much better because it comes from the heart, it comes from the community."
Schlosser, the builders and the family created the group Building Hope for Long Island and want the Shaljian home to be the first of many projects across the Island where community members band together to help a family in need.
"This is a great example of why we love Long Island," Christine Shaljian said.
James Shaljian, 45, who worked as a carpenter until he became ill, and Christine, 43, who is looking for work as a teacher, wouldn't be able to afford the work on their own. Williams estimated the project would cost $225,000 to $250,000.
Shaljian's brother, Chris, 54, a sales representative at Newsday, had the house's air quality tested and a report concluded there are "elevated levels of airborne molds." The family blames the mold on flooding and leaks over the years. But the air quality in the cottage - which has a small bathroom and kitchen, and had been used as a spare room and storage area - was fine.
Living separately has been tough on the Shaljians. "It's definitely changed the dynamic of our family," Christine Shaljian said, adding that they try to have dinner together in the backyard when the weather is pleasant.
James Shaljian, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2002, underwent a stem cell transplant in 2003, followed by chemotherapy, radiation and clinical trials. He had a bone-marrow transplant in October.
"Since then, I've been in here," Shaljian said Monday inside his 25-by-14-foot room, furnished with a small sofa, a television and an inflatable mattress. His 6-foot-5 frame clears the ceiling by a few inches.
In May, Christine said, he landed in intensive care with fluid around his heart and also had a bout with pneumonia. He needs more chemo, she said, but can't get treatment because of complications from the bone marrow transplant.
James Shaljian, who until two months ago wasn't allowed to go to the store or anywhere there are many people, said he is humbled by the effort to rebuild his home. "I can't wait until I get better . . . and can help someone else," he said.
"We're going to pay it forward," his wife said. "We're so grateful. We're very blessed."
With Stacey Altherr