One man’s generosity has given this Aroostook family their first home

10 months ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — In a state facing severe housing shortages, Parys Ciuksza and Melissa Wilcox weren’t sure they would ever find an affordable place to call home.

But now they have, thanks to the gift of a Limestone man they never met.

Duncan MacKenzie, a Vietnam War veteran, lived at his small, two-story home on Albert Road. Before he died in October, he bequeathed the house to Aroostook County Action Program hoping that it would know a family searching for a forever home.

MacKenzie’s gift led to a first for the nonprofit. Though Aroostook County Action Program has helped connect numerous families with affordable housing, it had never been a homeowner itself, which it did briefly, then used state funds to renovate the house with specific new owners in mind.

The house came just in time. Ciuksza and Wilcox had nowhere to go when their landlord sold the house they were renting in Presque Isle and gave them notice to vacate, an example of how the affordable housing shortage in Maine can turn something as simple as a real estate transaction into a crisis for families.

ACAP Housing Program Manager Melissa Runshe (right) presents a Welcome sign to (from left to right) Parys Ciuksza, Cameron Wilcox and Melissa Wilcox (holding son Troy Ciuksza, 3) during a housewarming for the family in Limestone. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

“There’s such a huge housing shortage across the state. So many of our families are struggling in the current market,” said Melissa Runshe, Aroostook County Action Program’s housing program manager. “Thanks to Duncan, we were able to get the home for less than half its market value after appraisal.”

A $39,900 Community Development Block Grant from U.S. Housing and Urban Development paid for the organization’s extensive renovations in the 1950s-era home, including new bathrooms, kitchen appliances and cabinets, bathrooms, floorboards, interior doors, electrical wiring and four coats of indoor paint.

Ciuksza and Wilcox learned that their landlord had sold their rental as Aroostook County Action Program was renovating the home in Limestone. They had a short period of time in which to move with their son Troy Ciuksza, who will turn 3 on Sunday, and Wilcox’s son Cameron Wilcox, 17.

The move was made more challenging by Troy’s health. He was diagnosed with leukemia last fall. He and his mother travel to Bangor every week for his treatments.

Thankfully, Parys Ciukswa said, his family was never homeless after moving from their apartment. While Melissa and Troy were in Bangor, his sister paid for his one-week stay in a local Airbnb. Aroostook County Action Program allowed them to move into the Limestone home sooner than expected.

Now, the major renovations are finished and the family is settling in, all the more grateful for MacKenzie’s generosity and the organization’s assistance.

“We never would have owned a home without them,” Melissa Wilcox said. “We were looking since 2021, but the housing market has exploded since then. There was nothing affordable for us to buy.”

Though Ciuksza works full time, Wilcox stopped working after Troy’s cancer diagnosis. That left the family even more financially unable to purchase a home on their own. 

The Wilcox/Ciuksza family poses in front of their new home on Albert Road in Limestone. Pictured from left to right are Parys Ciuksza, Melissa Wilcox (holding son Troy Ciuksza, 3) and Cameron Wilcox, 17. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

But their connections with Aroostook County Action Program helped the family become ideal candidates for MacKenzie’s former house. Troy had been attending Early Head Start, which helped Ciuksza and Wilcox meet family coaches in the nonprofit’s housing, wellness and heating assistance programs and the first-time homebuyer’s course.

Once the organization secured the family for the former MacKenzie house, it helped Ciuksza and Wilcox get a $39,900 loan through Machias Savings Bank that covers the nonprofit’s renovation costs. 

Aroostook County Action Program wants to use money from that payback to fund future renovations should anyone ever feel compelled to bequeath or donate a home the way MacKenzie did.

“This will allow us to pay it forward and help another family,” said Jason Parent, Aroostook County Action Program’s executive director and CEO.

Already the old house feels like the home that Ciuksza and Wilcox always wanted. That feeling became even more powerful after seeing Troy’s reaction.

“Within a couple hours of being here, he was taking a nap. And he never likes to nap,” Ciuksza said. “We’re beyond grateful. It really is a dream come true for us.”

Members of MacKenzie’s family were not available for comment.