About 40 volunteers lined a stretch of 17A Avenue in South Surrey Sunday evening, anticipating the arrival of Rachelle Seidel.
Seidel, a single mother of three who has led a “brutal life,” according to one of her lifelong friends, was expected to arrive any minute.
Exhausted, excited and emotional, the volunteers had just spent the last seven days renovating Seidel’s rented home. The team is part of the LifeApp charity, a Langley-based organization that co-ordinates home makeovers for people who need it the most.
Some of the volunteers took a week off work to help with the project, others logged 15-hour days, and some still had crusty paint splattered through their hair at the reveal. The undertaking was massive and the timeline was tight.
Seidel arrived and walked down the centre of the street with her children at her side. The volunteers cheered and clapped as she got closer to the house. She stopped in front of her home, but her view was obstructed by a cargo van.
On the count of three, the volunteers shouted, “Move that truck!”
As she got her first glimpse of the house, Seidel immediately fell to the ground in the middle of the street, overwhelmed with emotion. Her young children, friends, and project leaders rushed in to console her.
With a little help, she eventually got to her feet and rested her forehead on the shoulder of Naomi Kragh, one of her lifelong friends.
“You’re OK. You’re going to be just fine. All of these people love you so much,” Kragh said with her arms wrapped around Seidel.
After gathering herself, Seidel walked up to the house, not knowing what to expect. Seven days earlier, the home was battered, cluttered, and falling apart.
“Oh my god!” Seidel screamed as she entered the garage, which had been turned into a workout space.
She moved to the main part of the house, which is an open-concept, connecting the dining room, kitchen and living room.
With her hands over her mouth, she stood in silence for a few seconds, her eyes darting around the room.
“Wow, this is insane…. Oh my lord… I’m going to have a panic attack,” she said, clutching her chest.
She entered the living room and saw her new TV, fireplace, and couch.
“It’s a sectional!” she yelled, before jumping onto the couch. “I love sectionals.”
Every room, as well as the outside of the house, was renovated. After the tour, Seidel met the volunteers in her backyard.
“I’m shocked, I’m happy, I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m scared – that’s why my arms are crossed, I don’t know what to do – I’m back home again, which is really exciting,” Seidel said.
While Seidel says she doesn’t deserve such a gift, the people who love her, and know the challenges she’s faced, disagree.
“She’s the kind of person who runs around like crazy doing everything for everyone else,” Kragh said prior to Seidel seeing the renovation.
“And I’m like… it’s your time. If anyone deserves it, it’s you. She’s just had a brutal life. She’s had brutal circumstance, thing after thing after thing. She just deserves a break.”
The day after the home reveal, Seidel explained that her rocky road resulted in her moving seven times in three months, between friends’ houses and transition homes. Her challenge has been amplified with the raising of her three children, who have complex special needs.
“This whole process has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It really has been... It was one of the hardest things, and then having to put these kids above me. You’re supposed to put yourself first, but in this case, these kids don’t have a home right now. They don’t know where they’re going to be… It was complicated,” Seidel said of her experience.
Teresa Penner, the woman behind LifeApp, said Seidel was selected to be recipient of the project because “she was drowning and needed help.”
In addition to the renovation, Penner said LifeApp is providing long-term life-skills support after the project.
Every dollar donated to LifeApp goes back into the Langley and Surrey community. Significant donors of this most recent project include The Passionate Home, Benjamin Moore and Urban Presentations.
Learn more about the organization at https://www.lifeapp.ca/