Christine Shaljian keeps a bundle of tree branches at her temporary home on Canal Road in Mount Sinai, a symbol of hope and love for her family.
She walked up a flight of steps Wednesday as three volunteers worked to install a new window in the front of her new home. They’re doing the work that ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” would have done had it selected the Mount Sinai family for the makeover that a Setauket family was awarded last summer.
Shaljian’s 45-year-old husband, James, is a carpenter and had been planning to make several repairs to rectify a mold and mildew problem in his family’s 750-square-foot bungalow, which once stood where his new house is being built on Wylde Road. But in 2002 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, and his plans came to a screeching halt. His doctors advised that he move into his backyard cottage because the airborne contaminants in his home posed a serious health risk.
While James was sick, Christine Shaljian said her community provided her family -- which also includes daughters, Ashley, 21; Noelle, 18; Arianna, 16; and Emily, 12 -- with a wealth of support.
Dorothy Schlosser, a remedial math teacher at Mount Sinai Elementary School and a close friend of the Shaljians, visited their home to bring food. When she saw how it had deteriorated, she nominated them for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
“I think I was as crushed as they were when they didn’t get the house,” Schlosser said.
But Schlosser didn’t stop there. She rounded up local contractors that subsequently formed Building Hope for Long Island, a not-for-profit organization designed to help families.
The crew met with the family and designed their new 2,200-square-foot home. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko waived most of the town fees associated with demolishing the old home and building the new home, saving the project about $25,000.
Martin Haley, Brookhaven’s commissioner of buildings and fire prevention, was also on board, helping expedite permits and inspections.
“It’s neighbors helping neighbors, and that’s what it‘s all about,” Haley said.
Co-founders of Building Hope for Long Island -- which include Mount Sinai-based Coles Contracting and Capo Design Builders of Saint James -- have headed up the Shaljian project. Four Seasons Sunrooms in Holtsville donated $18,000 worth of energy-efficient windows. Donations from the Mount Sinai Teachers Union and Mount Sinai High School student council funded the house’s main floor.
The project, which should be completed by mid-March, still needs $30,000. Anyone interested can visit www.buildinghopeforli.org to learn how to contribute.
“We had so lost hope,” Christine Shaljian said. But with life so much better now, she keeps that bundle of branches as a constant reminder of what her community has meant for her family.
“One branch can break, but a bundle is very difficult to break,” she said.