What had been a trying and disastrous time in their lives, the Edwards family of Naples is now looking forward with hope to next week when they can finally move into their new home-all thanks to a community who stepped in to help.

It all started in January of 2006, when Jon and Shirley Edwards and their four children returned from a Special Olympics skiing competition in Sugarloaf to find their home gutted by fire.

In addition to all of their personal possessions, Jon’s business, which he ran from home, and their 22-year-old autistic son’s communication equipment was laid to waste.

Jon claims a contractor hired to rebuild his family’s home completed only a fraction of the work and took off with their money. The Edwards’ insurance company offered as a temporary home a trailer, built for only two people, and the family had until mid-January 2007 to figure out their living arrangements before it would be taken away.

And without a heating system and insulation, in addition to a lengthy Christmas list of other essential parts to their incomplete home, the Edwards were racing against time before winter set in and their trailer was removed.

Shirley, desperately trying to keep her family together, reached out to Susan Neale, publisher of the Maine Women’s Journal.

“Is there any way you can help me?” Shirley asked with difficulty.

“Shirley told me all she wanted was hope for Christmas,” Neale said. “‘But how do you wrap up hope?’ I really wanted to help this woman and her family, and that’s the mission of my magazine: to help women help one another.” Neale donned her new mission, “The Edwards’ Hope Train.”

True enough, after the media took up this story, and with the help of Billi Lynn Burke, a broker for 207Realty.com in Naples who runs a program that helps local families in need, dozens of people, many of them contractors, rushed to donate time and material to help the Edwards complete their home in time.

Donations ranged from a heating system to insulation to household appliances, and the Edward’s house, unlived in and a cold reminder of hard times, quickly took the shape of a real home. If their occupancy permit is honored, they can move in as soon as next week.

“Someday down the road we’ll ask ourselves: ‘how did we get through all of this?'” Jon said. “Fact is: God sent us those people who had helped.”

Jon and his 19-year-old son, Lane, devoted themselves to build their new home with the help of the community. And he said his experience within the past year will stay with him for the rest of his life.

“It’s been one wild ride I’ll never forget. Right now I’m focused on getting my family indoors,” he said. “It’s strange…the last stretch always seems like the longest.”

Burke and her husband, ‘Tux,’ who helped organize the effort, said she is still amazed at the response of the community.

“We’ve pretty much come to the end,” she said. “It’s been unbelievable. The phone calls began pouring in. The next day, people were on the site working. You can’t imagine all of these people working together trying to get this family into their new home.”

Richard Cross, a close friend of the Edwards’ who works at Radio Detection in Bridgton, donated not only time and money to building the new home, but was someone the Edwards could turn to and speak about their troubles.

“It was quite an experience,” Cross said. “I’ve known them for a few years now. They’re a great family. We just needed to get them through the bad times. And when you’re down like they were, you need someone to talk to, someone to lean on. I’m glad to see that they’re on their way.”

Jon and Shirley both agreed that their family, despairing from one financial disaster after another, is slowly awakening to the possibilities of a better future.

“It’s getting better… we can feel it,” Shirley said. “I have endless thanks for those who helped. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

People who had contributed time and material:

Naples Grange #94

Tux and Billi Burke from 207Realty.com

Susan Neale (the family angel) and the Maine Women’s Journal, coordinating all the calls and keeping the work in progress to get to an occupancy permit

Jon and Shirley Edwards

Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce

Richard Cross of Radio Detection, Bridgton, donating time and money

Gobeil’s Furniture Galleries

The Bridgton Fire Department

The Naples Fire Department

Steve Bennett, donating his time and laborers for the sheet rocking, insulating and painting

Brain Spear and Curtis Gray, donating time and materials

Redlon & Johnson Distributors

Strumphy’s Plumbing and Heating

Ladde, donating the boiler for the house

Curtis Gray, donating tape, mud and loaning his woodstove


Olympia Sports Center


Heavenly Pages

Hope Albert, representative of Arbonne International

Joyful Heart Gift Shop

Jeff and Susan Neale

Agren Appliance

Linda Gray

Bob Cooper

Christian Leaders in Maine Business (CLIMB)

Trinity Lutheran Church

Bruce Ellis of ATA Piping, donating 75 sheets of sheetrock and 2 buckets of mud

Joe Schelton of Lowes, Windham branch, gave discounts

Larry Domenichello of Lowe’s, Windham branch, gave discounts

Jay at Jay’s Plumbing and Heating, donating supplies and labor

A Christian group donated insulation

Dan Collins, donating insulation

Gelinas HVAC Services, Inc

Gagnon-Bridgton, donating indirect water tank

John Bachioccho, Lowell Plumbing & Heating

Dave Gerrish, donating major electrician supplies and labor

Toilets donated by individual in Sweden, Maine

Jameson Energy Fuels l, donating oil

LP Appliance, donating most of the appliances

House of Lights

Fogg Lighting

Jim Poulin, donating lights

Creative Marble and Design

Rick Fritz, remodeling and cabinets

Laurie LeKousi of Scarborough, donating a double cast-iron kitchen sink and having it delivered

Karin Harkin of Project G.R. A. C. E., donating a faucet

The Sherwin-Williams Company, Windham, donating all of the paint

John Edwards in the kitchen of his new home on Gore Road in Naples. The furnace is in, the walls and ceilings are sheet rocked, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Edwards hopes everything will be done in two weeks so he can move his family out of the mobile home that’s provided temporary shelter since their home was destroyed in an explosion.Everything but the kitchen sink: the cabinets are in, but no sink or appliances yet.Electrician Dave Gerrish was working inside the Edwards’ new home earlier this week, connecting switches and receptacles.

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