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Community comes together to upgrade home of Ontario teen impaled by golf club

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For the first time since Madison Arseneault’s skull was impaled by a sawed-off golf club during gym class more than two years ago, the partially paralyzed teen has a bedroom she can actually access.

More than 70 companies and individuals in Windsor, Ont., rallied together and donated their time, money and supplies to renovate her family home and build an additional 800 square feet of accessible space. 

“It breaks my heart,” said Madison’s mom, Shirley Arseneault, holding back tears. “Basically another house was built, and basically just to accommodate Madison so that she can live life again.”

Madison Arseneault, centre, and her mother Shirley, left, and father Andrew, right, are eager to be able to use their newly renovated, fully accessible home once it’s finished in late February. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Since the 2016 accident, the family has been struggling with finances and would not have been able to do the renovations on their own.

The project — valued at more than $200,000 — came at no cost to the family because of community assistance.

Watch part of the emotional interview with Shirley and Madison Arseneault:

Shirley Arseneault describes how she copes with being a parent for her teenage daughter who continues to struggle with serious health issues. Madison Arseneault became impaled by a sawed-off golf club while running at a city park during gym class. 1:34

Madison’s life has dramatically changed ever since that spring day on May 25.

The accident happened during a gym class at the Ford Test Track, a city park adjacent to Madison’s grade school. The Grade 8 student was running on the track, decided to cut through on the grass, and tripped on some string city crews were using as a guide to paint lines on the soccer field. That string was held in place by sawed-off golf clubs staked in the ground, one of which came loose and punctured Madison’s skull.

Local philanthropist Jim Scott heard about what happened and called everyone he knew for help. Knowing the journey to recovery was going to be tough, they focused on making her family’s home accessible. More than 70 people came together and donated their time, money or supplies to retrofit her home.

“She’s living her life and she continues to want to be a normal student,” said Jake Heydon, a football player at Holy Names Catholic High School who played a role in the project.

Organizers had trouble finding someone to handle the demolition side of the renovation, so Heydon, his teammates and coaches made it happen.

“Especially someone who had such a horrific experience, when you can make that feeling go away a little bit and put a smile on their face, that’s what we really try to emphasize around here,” said coach Dan Hogan.

The Holy Names Catholic High School football team helped with the demolition during the renovation of the Arseneaults’ family home. (Arseneault family)

Partial paralysis is something Madison will likely have to live with for the rest of her life, according to her doctors. And at the end of each day, the teen says she often finds herself in pain because of unexplained circulation issues.

For the last two-and-a-half years, her bed has been in the family’s living room because she couldn’t climb the steep stairs to the second floor. The family has built a lift to allow her to get to the second floor.

“It’s really exciting, I just can’t wait for it to be finished,” she said.

Madison also loves to bake and cook, so she helped design the new kitchen to ensure it’s functional for her needs. From pull-down shelves in the upper cabinets, to a blender that simply pulls out from under the counter, she’ll soon be ready to resume her small cake-making business from home.

The home also now has an attached garage that leads to a lift inside, so Madison no longer has to wheel around the house in the rain or snow to access the backyard. And in her bathroom, most things are on the right-hand side because of her vision impairment.

Have a look at the Arseneaults’ nearly finished home and why these renovations matter:

The community in Windsor came together to renovate Madison’s house so she’s able to live a functional life at home. 1:58

Almost every day of each week, the teen has some sort of therapy — from counselling to physiotherapy. Although she made some gains, defying doctors’ predictions and starting to walk again, recently she’s taken a few steps back.

“I’ve been getting more headaches; they’re getting worse and just different, but nobody knows why,” she said.

One day at school, her headache became so severe it caused uncontrollable vomiting, a lot of pain and landed her in the hospital. Arseneault describes it as “one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt.”

“When I think about the way life was supposed to be and what I wanted for my daughter, that’s what gets me,” said Shirley Arseneault. “When I see her struggle or in pain, that’s what gets me. But she’s here — she wasn’t supposed to be, but she is.”

Once the renovations are fully complete, which is expected to be sometime later this month, the family is looking forward to having some sense of normalcy.

“You can see the excitement on her face,” said Shirley Arseneault. “It was like finally something was going to be hers.”

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa

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Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa

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In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan

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As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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