When the time came to give up their family home, the Mathesons thought of Summer Street.
Sixty years earlier their parents, Sylvia and Fraser Matheson, brought their infant twin daughters and toddler son from a one-bedroom apartment over a convenience store to the large, two-storey home. Now those children, with lives of their own, were nearing retirement.
“It was a family friend who suggested we consider donating to Summer Street and we’re so glad he did,” said Sandra Matheson.
Sandra and Susan found the idea appealing because they knew of Summer Street’s work creating opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. They also knew their parents had been early supporters. When the sisters suggested gifting the property, their brother Alan, whose background is in accounting, was already familiar with “in-kind” donations to charities.
“For me, the big question was whether Summer Street was interested in accepting donated assets and whether the house could be aligned with the kind of programs and opportunities they offer. After determining they were interested, we carried on together to make it happen,” said Alan.
It was a relatively simple and straight-forward process, he added.
“For anyone considering this kind of gift, it can work fairly well because you claim the donation at your discretion, within a certain timeframe. If you happen to be at or near retirement, you can utilize the credit in the year, or years, when it is in your best interest.”
Delighted with such a generous donation, Summer Street began pursuing possible uses for the property. By chance, it learned Pictou County Safe Harbour refugee support group had an immediate need for a home for five.
“We were in the process of deciding to operate the property as an Airbnb but we were happy to offer it to Safe Harbour on a short-term basis,” said Bob Bennett, Summer Street’s executive director.
Mohammed Alzarzour, his wife, Shrouk Al Rawashdeh, and their three children were among several Syrian families resettled to Canada in the fall of 2018. Five of those families were brought to New Glasgow by Safe Harbour which continues to support newcomers to the Pictou County community.
When Summer Street became aware of their needs, clients hurried to complete repairs and routine maintenance before opening the doors of the Matheson home to the family. Summer Street also continues to maintain the property.
From the comfort and security of their temporary home, the family has been building a new life. Mohammed, formerly an Arabic teacher, has found work as a roofer while Shrouk, who studied English in Syria, has obtained a conditional license to teach in Nova Scotia and is available as a substitute teacher.
Bennett said the Matheson family’s donation serendipitously allowed Summer Street to extend a timely helping hand.
“Summer Street has always had strong relationships in the community. It has always been our practice to provide support and open doors wherever possible. We’re very happy to be able to collaborate with Safe Harbour to provide some short-term help for this family.”
In the meantime, plans to develop the Matheson property into an Airbnb are continuing.
“We think it is going to be a wonderful opportunity for our clients to develop a lot of different skills. When we open we’ll need to handle bookings, reception, cleaning and maintenance of the house. It will be a very welcoming place for visitors. We may even provide an enhanced experience by serving breakfast and if that is the case, we’ll be preparing it, as well,” said Bennett.
The Airbnb will offer a unique service in the community and hopefully draw visitors to the area.
“In addition to providing training and employment for our clients, we’ll continue the work of opening up the way people with intellectual disabilities are regarded so we’ll be extending Summer Street’s mission,” added Bennett.
The Mathesons never imagined their former home would shelter a family emerging from the trauma of war or operate as an Airbnb.
“We donated to Summer Street, no strings attached, and trusted they would make good use of the property. We’re very happy they are able to help the Syrian family and we’re also very excited about the Airbnb plans,” said Susan.
Summer Street Industries has been serving the needs of adults with intellectual disabilities for 50 years. Like many organizations, they rely heavily on the dedicated support and unfailing generosity of the people of Pictou County. They are open to donations of all kinds, including gifts of cash, bonds, mutual funds, GICs and shares, as well as life insurance, property, land, art, vehicles and so on. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our web site summerstreet.ca.