“There’s only one room in the house I can’t get into,” said Joel Kleine, a member of St. Albert (Alta.) CRC, adding humorously that it’s the perfect place for his wife, Amanda, to hide his presents. That one room is a storage room in the basement, but the fact that Kleine can access all the other floors and rooms in his house is definitely something to rejoice about.
Three weeks ago, the Kleine home in Edmonton, designed and built by Celebration Homes, was the recipient of Edmonton’s 2015 Mayor’s Award for Universal Design in Residential Architecture. The award is given annually to an architect or builder who demonstrates creative sensitivity toward the accessibility of persons with disabilities. “It looks like a ‘normal’ house, but it’s 100 percent barrier-free,” explained Kleine. Now he can accomplish simple everyday tasks that he couldn’t before. A discreetly hidden elevator provides freedom and independence.
Kleine, 40, is an elementary school teacher at Edmonton’s Northeast Christian School. He was diagnosed eight years ago with Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA), a rare, degenerative, neuromuscular disease. As the disease progressed, there were many things Kleine was not able to do in the 1970s bungalow where he lived with his wife and two young sons. Narrow hallways and doorways made it difficult to maneuver a wheelchair. He could not access the backyard. A local architect suggested it would be more efficient to build a custom barrier-free home than try and renovate the existing one—although it would be very costly.
The members of St. Albert CRC, its pastor, and the broader community, came alongside the Kleines following Joel’s diagnosis. For the past eight years they’ve offered encouragement and prayer and financial support. Through runs and bake sales, nearly $30,000 has been raised for Friedreech’s Ataxia research.
When it came time to build the new home, the church held a fundraising Christmas concert. Joel, who composes music and plays guitar with a local indie rock band, Bombproof the Horses, joined forces with several other musicians. A freewill offering was taken, raising another $30,000. “It was quite overwhelming,” said Kleine. When moving day finally came, many church members showed up to help.
The day their home won the Mayor’s Award, Amanda posted on Facebook, “We are truly blessed by this house. It could not have been possible without the encouragement, love, prayers, and financial help of family, friends, and our builder’s generosity and flexibility.”
“Friedreich’s Ataxia is like having an unwelcome guest in your home,” Kleine said. “It’s tough sometimes, but through it all, God has always provided for us. It’s the people around you that help you cope with it—from church to school to family.”