CANTON — If you ask Evelyn Summers, 90, what she wants for Christmas this year, you'll only get one answer.
“All I want is to be back in my old house by Christmas Day,” Summers said. “I want it more than anything.”
After eight years of living in a nursing home and several months of planning, it appears that Summers' wish may come true.
Eight years ago, Evelyn Summers suffered a stroke that left one side of her body paralyzed. Unable to take care of herself, Summers was taken to the Victorian Villa Rehabilitation and Living Center in Canton, where she has resided ever since.
Her home, found just off Lake Anasagunticook where the former Pinewood Campground site used to be, was left in the hands of her neighbor while she was away.
“She's also my power of attorney,” Summers said. “She's a dear friend of mine who agreed to take care of my house while I was away.”
Summers, who used to live in the Adirondacks before moving to Maine, lived in her house for just two years before her stroke forced her to move to the Victorian Villa. She said her house was built in 2002 on the old Pinewood Campground property.
“Pinewood Camp used to be a very popular vacation spot,” Summers said. “There used to be all kinds of cottages on the property, but after the campground shut down, they burned down most of the cottages. After my husband died, I had a house built on that property.”
Summers learned she would be able to move back into her house after Tanya Smith, nursing social service director of Victorian Villa, looked into a program that works to move seniors in nursing homes back into the community.
Smith explained that every year each resident is given a review, where they're asked if they would like to return to their home.
“Evelyn has wanted to return home for a while, but unfortunately the money and resources were never there,” Smith said. “This year, however, some federal grant money came through, and I found a group that allowed Evelyn to begin the process of moving back home.”
The group, known as Homeward Bound, is a part of Maine's Money Follows the Person program, which, according to its website, is designed to help elderly and disabled adults with complex, long-term care needs move from institutional to community settings. The program is funded by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
“In order to qualify, the person has to have been in a nursing home for at least nine months and meet certain requirements,” Smith said. “Evelyn ended up meeting all the requirements for it.”
Summers described Homeward Bound as a “wonderful program” and said that so far they've installed a bathtub in her house that she can walk into instead of climbing into, as well as ramps and pull-bars throughout the house to help her move around more easily.
“I'm also having a security system installed, since I'll be alone for most of the day,” Summers said. “There'll be a nurse with me in the morning and at night to make sure I can get in and out of bed.”
While Summers is excited to move back in, when she inherits the house again it will come with the burden of thousands of dollars in unpaid back taxes.
“A few years after I left my neighbor in charge of the house, she moved her mother into it to take care of it,” Summers said. “Her mother was pure irresponsibility. She let the bills and taxes on the house build up. Now I owe thousands of dollars, since the house is still in my name. It will probably take a couple years to pay it off.”
Smith added that she received “an incredibly large propane bill in the amount of $3,000” that Summers will be stuck with.
Between the bills and her disability, Summers said it's easy to get discouraged, but she's had plenty of people helping to prepare her for the move back home.
“The town of Hartford has been working with me,” Summers explained. “They said my situation was a 'genuine hardship case' and they would help me handle it so I wouldn't be burdened as much by bills.”
Summers said residents from Canton and Hartford have been helping to get her house ready, including Chris Dailey, a family friend and owner of Dailey's A&Z Self Storage, and Ashley O'Brien of Western Maine Propane, who donated an all new furniture set for her to use.
Dailey said he's very excited to see Summers back in her own home.
“She has a twinkle in her eye that I haven't seen in a while,” Dailey said. “She deserves this.”
Summers also voiced her appreciation of Smith for helping her out over the eight years she's spent at Victorian Villa.
“She's such a wonderful woman,” Summers said of Smith. “She works with me all the time, writes letters for me, listens to what I have to say. When I first got the keys to the house again, she was so excited that you would think it was her moving back in.”
Once she is able to move back in, Summers said she will call her nephew, Joe Johnson of North Carolina, and his wife and extend an invitation to them.
“Joe's a state trooper, and he's been keeping my spirits up these past eight years,” Summers said. “As soon as I'm back in my house, he's the first person I'm calling.”
Although Summers has been approved to move back to her house, she's unsure whether or not she'll get in by Christmas Day, though Smith said “she's going to push for it.”
Regardless of what happens, Summers is ecstatic.
“Little by little, things are getting better,” Summers said. “My worries are lifting away, one by one.”