Mahaley Lowe, a blind Cataula woman approaching her 80th birthday, still lives in the humble home of her birth.
But the foundation of the house is sinking, the roof caving in, and the bathroom sits in ruins.
Now, a group of neighbors, businesses and churches are trying to raise $53,000 to build a new 600-square-foot house on Lowe’s one- acre property in rural Harris County. The project began this fall with a barbecue fundraiser at American Sand & Gravel on Highway 27, which raised $2,000.
Susan Stephens, Lowe’s home health nurse, recently launched a GoFundMe page to raise money. She said the River of Life Church in Hamilton donated funds, and a member offered to pay for the roof. Friends are selling $15 T-shirts that read “Supporting Mahaley Lowe - My Neighbor in Need,” which will soon be available at American Sand & Gravel.
Wayne Fussell, owner of the business, said Lowe’s story struck a chord with neighbors, and many are doing whatever it takes for the cause. Among those to join the effort is Bill Mann, a prominent Columbus builder who offered to donate his services if the group raises funds for other expenses, according to Fussell. The funds will be used for materials, landscaping, and to make the home handicap accessible.
“I tell you what, it’s going to be the prettiest house in those quarters,” he said of the home that will be built on Chambliss Circle. “And we’re proud to be doing it for her.”
Lowe said she’s doesn’t want people pitying her, yet she’s grateful for all the help.
“I’ve been here for years and years and the house done rotted,” she said in a recent phone interview with the Ledger-Enquirer. “It’s better to build a new one than to try to fix it up.”
Stephens said she has been caring for Lowe for about two years and just couldn’t let her continue living that way.
In addition to recently losing her sight to glaucoma, Lowe has been battling lung disease since age 3, Stephens said. She also suffers from peripheral vascular disease, which limits the blood flow to her lower legs causing swelling and ulcers.
The house has asbestos in the siding, which is bad for her lungs, Stephens said. And the roof leaks every time it rains, making the kitchen floor slick and dangerous.
Stephens said Lowe also has has no air conditioning or heat and she uses a little three-burner gas heater during the winter months. The bathroom caught on fire a few years ago, and is now separated from the rest of the house. The home is not handicap accessible, even to the front porch.
Stephens said she tried to convince Lowe to move into an assisted living facility, but her health declined every time that option was mentioned.
When asked by the Ledger-Enquirer why she didn’t want to move, Lowe said: “I just never liked the city because the city is bad living, you know. I was raised here, and I just like my home, I guess.”
Lowe said she was born in the house, originally owned by her grandmother. As a child, she moved into another house with her parents, where she lived until she was about 34 years old. When her grandmother died, she moved back into the house.
Lowe’s parents have since passed, she said, and a sister who cared for her died in May. She still has a brother-in-law, cousin and niece who live in other houses close to the property. She also has two sons - one living in Columbus and the other in Savannah, she said.
William Lowe, the son who lives in Columbus, said he’s disabled due to a car accident with a drunk driver in the 1970s. He said it breaks his heart to see his mother living in such a dilapidated home, but he and his brother aren’t in a position to help her financially.
William Lowe said he travels to Cataula several times a week to take his mother food and drive her to doctors’ appointments, and he appreciates all that the community is doing to help.
“The home that she’s in, I’m not able to build it up for her, and it’s been rough,” he said. “I’m glad people like Miss Susan are helping her to get a better setup. ... She’s an older person who’s just having a hard time.”
Stephens said nurses go to the home three times a week, and Lowe gets Meals-on-Wheels.
“Once we get this house built, we’ve already approved for an aid to come in for a few hours every day to do the things she needs done, “ she said. “But right now we can’t get anyone in there because it’s pretty much a condemned house, and they’ve deemed it not safe for an employee to stay there over a few hours.”
Though Lowe is comfortable there, Stephens believes it’s an unsafe environment.
“Honestly, this house looks like something you would see in a third-world country, and it’s right here in Harris County,” she said. “I’ve never seen anyone living in these conditions, especially a blind, elderly woman.”
So far, the group has raised $1,222 of the $25,000 goal at GoFundMe.com.