With help of community, single mom able to fix up, move into ‘itty bitty’ Orland home with daughters

Posted June 15, 2014, at 12:50 p.m.
The Orland house sits on two acres of land near Toddy Pond on Saturday. Jennifer Jacques and her daughters fell in love with the area when they were exploring last year.
The Orland house sits on two acres of land near Toddy Pond on Saturday. Jennifer Jacques and her daughters fell in love with the area when they were exploring last year. Buy Photo
This is the living room of the 'itty bitty' Orland home on Saturday that Jennifer Jacques and her daughters moved into late March. Jacques said her chairs are some of the only items she brought with her from a previous home.
This is the living room of the 'itty bitty' Orland home on Saturday that Jennifer Jacques and her daughters moved into late March. Jacques said her chairs are some of the only items she brought with her from a previous home. Buy Photo
This quilt was made and signed by a woman in Hancock for Aria Jacques after the woman read about Jennifer Jacques' home project in the paper.
This quilt was made and signed by a woman in Hancock for Aria Jacques after the woman read about Jennifer Jacques' home project in the paper. Buy Photo
Jennifer Jacques' youngest daughter's room is on the ground floor of the converted garage that became a three-bedroom home in Orland.
Jennifer Jacques' youngest daughter's room is on the ground floor of the converted garage that became a three-bedroom home in Orland. Buy Photo
Jennifer Jacques' living room on Saturday was a cleaned out, filled with furniture room. It used to be a mouse infested garage in Orland less than a year ago. Her daughter's room is in a loft up the ladder.
Jennifer Jacques' living room on Saturday was a cleaned out, filled with furniture room. It used to be a mouse infested garage in Orland less than a year ago. Her daughter's room is in a loft up the ladder. Buy Photo
Jennifer Jacques shows on Saturday how the walls in her 'itty bitty' Orland home were turned into shelves to save space.
Jennifer Jacques shows on Saturday how the walls in her 'itty bitty' Orland home were turned into shelves to save space. Buy Photo
Jennifer Jacques tells Saturday how many of the appliances in the kitchen were given to her by people did not need them anymore. She's had help from dozens of friends, neighbors and strangers converting her garage into a livable home in Orland.
Jennifer Jacques tells Saturday how many of the appliances in the kitchen were given to her by people did not need them anymore. She's had help from dozens of friends, neighbors and strangers converting her garage into a livable home in Orland. Buy Photo
A cat gazes out the window Saturday at Jennifer Jacques' 'itty bitty' Orland home.
A cat gazes out the window Saturday at Jennifer Jacques' 'itty bitty' Orland home. Buy Photo

ORLAND, Maine — What was once a mouse-infested garage with scraps of insulation hanging off the walls, a bare concrete floor and fluorescent lights clinging to the ceiling is now the home of Jennifer Jacques and her two daughters, Asha, 13, and Aria, 6.

When they first moved into the home in early March, the trio shared a bedroom, used a portable toilet and lived among power tools, extra insulation and sheetrock, Jacques said.

Ten months after they started rehabilitating the building, Jacques, her daughters and many helpers have transformed the 660-square-foot structure into a three-bedroom house, complete with a living room, bathroom and kitchen. The rooms are small, but Jacques has designed shelving that fits into the structure of the wall and a loft bedroom for Asha to maximize space.

Last summer, Jacques created a Facebook page, a website — with the help of a friend — and posted fliers around Blue Hill in the hope of soliciting help in the form of donated materials, labor, specific skill sets and moral support. She called the endeavor the Itty Bitty House Project, with the tagline “the little house that love built.”

Dozens of people have chipped in. At work parties, friends, acquaintances and strangers came for a few hours, a day or more to help clean out the building, install new insulation and siding, panel the roof and more. People from all over the state have donated appliances, materials, money and home improvement tips.

Others have simply given much needed encouragement, Jacques said.

Jacques said that one day, when she was struggling particularly hard to find motivation to keep working, she got a call, out of the blue, from an elderly woman in Wiscasset.

“[She] told me she was just calling to say she was proud of me, that the ‘Big Guy’ up there was looking out for me and that I should ‘Brace Up!’” Jacques recalled. “Her pep talk continues to inspire me.”

The process has not always been easy, and it’s certainly not complete.

“Carving out a home for myself in my corner of the world has been a little like giving birth,” Jacques said in an email to the Bangor Daily News, reflecting on the process.

“The discomfort is more mental and requires an unlimited supply of organization, determination and patience,” she said. “But in the end, something profound has happened in our lives, and there is this abiding peace and joy in this new beginning for our family.”

Before acquiring the property through the generosity of the previous owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, Jacques and her older daughter had bounced between 18 different rental homes and house-sitting opportunities since Asha was born. Jacques was motivated to find a secure, stable situation for her daughters.

Finding that permanency in the Orland house “frees me to look for sustainable work without so much panic about survival [and] helps the children on their educational paths,” she said.

Jacques works as a waitress at a restaurant in Blue Hill, making just over the federal poverty level per year. She is part of a third of Maine’s population that is considered “poor” or “near poor,” according to a 2012 study conducted by the Maine State Planning Office. That portion of the population struggles to pay for basic necessities such as food, shelter, heat and medical care, the study says.

Jacques said that the smallness of her house and the care she and her helpers took to insulate it will help keep her bills low.

“The affordability of this property means that I will not have to depend on the State, my parents, a man, or anyone but myself to provide for my children,” she said.

Though independence is what she’s reaching for, Jacques said that she also has learned about how to receive help graciously. She hopes to one day pay it forward.

“This project has reminded me how much we all need each other, and how — even though my goal is greater independence and sustainability — it is the community around us that really sustains us.”

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