CROWN POINT - Valerie Hunsdon is a success story in the eyes of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development agency.
The agency presented Hunsdon with a ceremonial key to her new home July 2, as part of a "Welcome Home" event highlighting National Home Ownership Month. Hunsdon, a single mother of one, recently received assistance from the USDA's home loan program and the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County.
Hunsdon said she was excited by the recognition and said the process to owning her home was a long and difficult one. Hunsdon's journey to where she is today began more than 18 years ago, when a car accident left her paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Five years ago, she and her husband divorced, leaving her to move with her then 1-year-old son into her parents' home.
"There weren't any apartments that we're wheelchair-accessible," Hunsdon said.
Then, when her niece was purchasing her own home, she told Hunsdon about the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County and how the program has grant money available to qualifying first-time home buyers. Working with USDA Rural Development, Hunsdon made up the difference to purchase her home by receiving a low-interest loan. All that was required was for her to take a homeowner education course.
"They want to make sure you can handle money and can budget and be able to afford your mortgage, power and things like that," explained Hunsdon, who said it took a year from the time she contacted the housing assistance program to the completion of the course.
During that time, Hunsdon also began working with Michelle and Eric LaBounty of Plattsburgh Housing Outlet in Plattsburgh to design a new modular home.
"We spent months designing a house that would be accessible for me and give us the space we need," said Hunsdon.
Hunsdon and her son, Travis, have been sharing a bedroom since they moved into her parents' home. Though a two-story house, Hunsdon said she really has only had access to the ground floor because of her condition.
"My bed is two feet away from his and I've got a dresser pinched in between my bed and the wall," she said. "I don't mean to sound ungrateful or selfish by any means, but we're just confined."
Downsizing from living in their own home to sharing a portion of one floor of a house has also meant living with mainly the bare necessities.
"I have a storage shed full of my life that I don't even know what's in there from five years ago," said Hunsdon.
When Hunsdon and her son finally occupy their new home, which is nearing completion, it will be an amazing feeling, she said.
"It's going to be like I have my life back," said Hunsdon. "Again, I don't mean to sound ungrateful but it will be just so incredible to have our own place."
Hunsdon's new home will have three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a combined kitchen, dining room and living room area, complete with an attached laundry area.
"It's going to be 1,400 square feet," she said. "It's going to be incredible. I'm very, very fortunate."
Hunsdon said she wouldn't have gotten to what she calls "a community event" without "an overwhelming amount" of help an encouragement.
"I can't tell you the support I've had since my accident, since the separation from my husband and through this with my house," she said. "The list is just so long of the people who have helped me. It didn't matter what kind of turmoil popped up ... I'm just thankful to everyone."
"I am thankful for all of the blessings from God," she added.
Hunsdon said she especially thanked the LaBountys for their help in the process, becoming more than people who sold her a new home.
"Michelle and Eric were great. They were so personable," said Hunsdon. "It's like they're part of the family now."
"It has been a really great learning experience working with Valerie," said Michelle LaBounty. "I have learned so much about her needs that will translate well for future clients who also need wheelchair accessibility."
"It has been so great watching her family and entire community rally around her as she enters this next chapter of her life," LaBounty added. "I feel very lucky to have met her and for the opportunity to help her build her new home."