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Church community helps woman restore home, restore life

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A 60-year-old north Brainerd woman desperately needed help, a church member said — even though she didn’t realize it.

For years, the woman lived in conditions that were unsafe and hazardous to her health, Curt Neumann, Brainerd Christian Fellowship member, said. She lived with garbage stacked up 4-feet high along the walls, as well as shared living quarters with 42 cats. The unlivable conditions got worse as the years passed to where the woman was unable to use the bathroom facilities.

The Brainerd woman experienced a medical condition of some kind that occurred before Thanksgiving Day at her home. Her boss, who had planned to pick her up for work that day, found her and took her to the Brainerd hospital. That was the day where her boss; Pastor George Cahoon of Brainerd Christian Fellowship and his wife Elsie; and Neumann decided it was time they help her. The woman also is a member of the fellowship church.

It was at that moment, Neumann said that, “We are not going to allow her to live here. It would have killed her.”

Neumann said it wasn’t easy to convince the woman, whose name will remain anonymous. Neumann said the woman has a lot of pride, is a little rebellious and is a loving and caring woman.

“She doesn’t think she has a problem living here,” said Neumann. “We had to convince her that we had to help her for her own good. We had to be blunt. We had to tell her to shower, but there was nowhere for her to go. She wasn’t able to get to the bathroom because of all the stuff in the house (blocking her access).”

Neumann and the Cahoons tried to help the woman about 10 years ago when her roof leaked. They cleaned out two rooms and the basement. They did what they could at that time, and thought she was doing better.

“It’s hard to help someone who doesn’t want help,” Neumann said. “We had to help her as she is our (church) sister.

“The Cahoons treated the woman over the years as her mother and father. They spent countless hours trying to help her.”

Neumann described helping the woman using three words — empathy, sympathy and compassion. He said people can show empathy and sympathy for someone, but in order to really make a difference for that person, a person must show compassion and be willing to help them.

The woman is staying at the church while volunteers are cleaning and rebuilding the home to where it will be livable again. Since November, volunteers have taken out 80 yards of garbage out of the house. They had to get rid of everything from the furniture to the appliances. Once the trash was removed, they washed down all the walls with trisodium phosphate. Neumann said the ammonia in the air from the 42 cats was so toxic they had to wear face masks.

“We spent hours and hours removing trash,” said Neumann. “We bit off a little more than we could chew. We had some people from the church come in and help us, but there is so much more to do.”

The house is being totally gutted and in the midst of redoing the house, the church volunteers had a slight setback. Someone stole about $5,000 worth of tools, including a paint sprayer and multiple cordless drills. Brainerd police were able to recover all but about $1,700 of the tools, so now they are back to work — but they need help.

Neumann is asking the community for its help in material or monetary donations to help restore the home with furniture, appliances and household items, such as curtains. They’re hoping to have the house ready by April.

Those who want to help can call the church at 829-3889 or mail a donation at 602 Juniper St., Brainerd, MN 56401.

“We’re working on helping the woman restore her home, but we also want to help her restore her life,” said Neumann. “She has a lot of people praying for her. Her physical health is improving.

“She needs deliverance ... She hasn’t slept on a bed for more than 20 years.”

Neumann said once the woman moves back into her home — originally owned by her parents and built sometime in the early 1900s — church members plan to check on her weekly to make sure the living conditions do not deteriorate.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow on Twitter at