"Security. Safety. Stability. Family unity.” This is what owning a Habitat home means to Shannon Sutton and her family. A self-sufficient, single mother with a young son and a good job, Shannon experienced a sudden reversal of fortune when, in 2014 she sustained a traumatic brain injury. Unable to work, Shannon lost everything. Through therapy and determination, she returned to the workforce, but moving from rental to rental meant her son, Aiden, had to frequently change schools. Not the stable educational environment she intended for her only child.
Shannon's partner of six years, John, emigrated from England to fill a need for IT specialists in Canada. Shannon and John agree that getting together is one of the best things to have ever happened to them. Shannon declares that John, by virtue of his love and care, has earned the right to have Aiden call him "Dad", and that they are indeed a complete family.
In 2019, Aiden developed mobility issues and underwent hip surgery. He often uses crutches or a travel chair, and until 17, is at risk of injuring his other hip, which is a constant worry for Shannon and John. Then, in a devastating turn of events, the family received more crushing news. John, the fitness and outdoors enthusiast of the family, was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease. He was placed on the transplant list in December. John has since lost the sight in one eye, rendering him partially blind. Shannon is now the sole caregiver and wage-earner in the family.
These challenges - tough for any family – were exacerbated by inadequate living conditions. Shannon and John’s rental house was long past its livable state and plagued by sewage backups. There was insufficient heating and cooling - to the extent that during summers, Aiden slept outdoors in a tent or in the homes of friends and neighbours. During the winters, Shannon and John slept in the living room under electric blankets. The tipping point came after the discovery of black and blue mold and the subsequent revelation of asbestos in the house, which created life-threatening conditions for John. Shannon knew she had to apply for a Habitat home, and submitted her eligibility questionnaire.
"With John’s compromised immune system, I had grave concerns about him getting a transplant and then dying from infection thereafter. Tied to this was the real fear of losing John before he could get a transplant and Aiden and I not being able to afford a home of our own. That is still John’s biggest worry,” says Shannon.
The application process has been a "humbling experience,” admits John. As a Scout leader and Freemason, community service has always been part of an active life. Shannon, a PTA parent, Terry Fox Run coordinator and Habitat build volunteer, knows first-hand the importance of giving. The opportunity to own a Habitat home, "provides safety, security, and stability for so many people like John and me. I’m a Canadian citizen, born here. John is a permanent resident. I’ve seen refugees get homes. People from different walks of life and different ethnicities – all with different stories – be level and all on the same playing field. It’s encouraging.”
The news that Shannon, John, and Aiden were selected as the next Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North partner family was met with a little shock, a few tears, and a lot of unabashed appreciation. "Everyone we’ve worked with through this process has been wonderful. I don’t know how we’d have gotten this far without the support of the people at Habitat. I feel like we’ve won the lottery,” says Shannon. "We won’t let you down. We’ll be your best ambassadors!”
This family is unified in their gratitude. They’re fighters. "You have absolutely changed our lives,” declares John. "Thank you so much. So, when do we start work with you? I’ll go get my shovel”