"The house that I lived in before, the apartment, we couldn't afford it and were sinking. It wasn't insulated well. Working three jobs, I was just sinking," McArdle said on Saturday when Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity dedicated its newest home for McArdle and her two children - Avery and Easton - to live.
She had to make a decision - do I sink or swim?
"The biggest choice for me is what kind of mother do I want to be? What kind of children do I want to raise? And the first thing that came to my mind was that I wanted to have grateful kids, I wanted to have grateful little humans," she said.
"Grateful that we can see a home being built for us, grateful that we have arms and legs to chase down running around little children and to help frame and paint this amazing home. That is one of the things that was really, really so important to me, to have grateful children."
A tragedy hit the family and McArdle was in tears. Her daughter offered to give her younger brother a bath, and the young brother offered McArdle a back rub. It was a fitting moment that still sticks with McArdle as it is reflective of exactly how her new home came together - with love, with people looking after each other, and with a family grateful for what they've received.
"What is a community if you aren't standing by each other, supporting each other, and making sure everyone can live their best lives? This is such a tangible example of that," state Sen. Adam Hinds said. "This is so special and you are so deserving."
The organization requires new homeowners to take financial training and coaching so they can afford the mortgage they ultimately take on and they have to put in numerous hours of volunteer time building for others. At the time, taking on extra responsibility wasn't easy for McArdle but she did it and became the Dalton's newest homeowner.
"Her desire for a better life for herself and her children has led to today's accomplishment of owning a forever home for her family," Habitat Board of Directors Vice President Mark Harris said.
The building of the home on Housatonic Street took a little over a year - there was a delay in the construction this time - and involved numerous volunteers, was part of the Women Build program and turned a property with two blighted structures on it into a new home. It was the first Habitat project in Dalton but it won't be the last as the town sold another parcel on Gulf Road to the organization for $1.
"We immediately recognized the benefit of a project like this as it pertains directly to Dalton. First of all, it cleared away a very blighted, rat-infested property that was here. There were two structures on this property... and they were jammed in close together, had been abandoned for several years," Selectman John Boyle who saw the entire project on a daily basis from his home across the street and from frequent stop-ins to see how things were going, said.
The town, nor Habitat, initially realized how big of a parcel it was. Those two were torn down and it opened up a backyard larger than they originally thought. Habitat will plant grass in the coming weeks, had already fenced it in, and McArdle's children will have plenty of room to play.
"Thanks for bringing down the average, Courtney," Boyle, who received plenty of chuckles from the crowd during his remarks due to his quick wit, said.
Pittsfield State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a regular volunteer during Women Build and who has welcomed plenty of families to new homes over the years, and state Rep. Paul Mark welcomed McArdle to the home.
Farley-Bouvier gave a presentation in which she presents bread in hopes that no one goes hungry, spices in hopes that life will be full of flavor, and flowers in hopes the family will always no joy to the homeowner.
"Habitat is one of my very favorite organizations because it is the best of us as a community all coming together to help a family. Stronger families mean stronger communities," Farley-Bouvier said.
Matt Russett, representing U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, is another regular Habitat volunteer and supporter, working on not only McArdle's house but others in the past. He reflected on the importance of home in his life.
"For those of you who are wondering what could get a 20-something year old out of bed at eight in the morning on a Saturday, it is my own relationship with a home. My grandpa got out of the war, got a job on the G.E. assembly line and for $100 he bought a plot of land and built a small four-bedroom house and raised his five children in it - you guys do the math. He went on to sell that house to his youngest son, my father, who raised my sister and me in there. That's three generations of Russetts in one household, three generations of Thanksgivings and Christmases and birthdays, backyard barbeques, home improvement projects, household chores and everything that goes into making a house a home," Russett said.
And then he went away for college and then work but he knows the feeling of coming back to that house and knowing what it is to be home.
Habitat Executive Director Carolyn Valli celebrated the new dedication but also said, "one out of five people in America are still in need of safe and affordable homes." She said locally there are many people three or four jobs and families paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing.
She advocated for people to join in urging state lawmakers to prioritize affordable housing policies.
"We refuse to accept that the problem is beyond our ability to address or make a difference," Valli said.
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