By HOWARD BALABAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Medina Journal-Register — The smiles and excitement on the faces of Cheatham family members Friday night almost made the hardships of the past two months fade away.
This past October the family was displaced from their Starr Street home due to a fire. Since then, Dion Cheatham said, the community support has been overwhelming.
“I think I can speak for the family when I say we’ve seen the darkest days, but we’ve also received a number of blessings from the entire community,” he said. “We’re so thankful.”
Thankful was a word repeated many times Friday night.
About a month ago, the officers’ union at Albion Correctional Facility adopted the Cheathams for Christmas. On Friday, Ann Hecht, Dan Houseman and Alvin Boose visited the family at their current home on State Street.
And they came bearing gifts. The visit itself was not a shock, but the sheer volume of presents seemed to be.
“I told them they were the family we adopted,” Boose said.
Dion Cheatham and his wife, Robin, had their expectations exceeded. Their seven children and one grandchild really had the joy of a kid at Christmas as they opened their presents, which ranged from various Spiderman paraphernalia to an Easy-Bake Oven to a TV.
“Even when he told us we were the family they chose, I didn’t know what to expect,” Cheatham said. “We would have appreciated anything.”
He wanted to say more, but didn’t quite know how. “I’m speechless.”
Robin Cheatham chimed in at that point, equally thankful for the generosity of the corrections officers.
“Everything is a blessing,” she said.
Since the couple’s children were given the chance to make Christmas lists, Mrs. Cheatham added, “I didn’t look at what they put down.
“If they put down anything outrageous, I’m sorry,” she added, drawing some laughter from the houseguests.
The Albion correctional officers, part of the NYS Corrections Officers and Police Benevolent Association, agreed that helping their neighbors was an easy choice.
“We work in the community, we live in the community, so why not give back to the community?” said Hecht.
The Cheathams were chosen, according to Boose, because of their unique circumstances. Indeed, losing a house is a dire situation. But among the many blessings the family said it has received is the chance to take up residence in their current home.
“This house was on the market for a while and then the owner took it off to let them live here,” Hecht said.
Mr. and Mrs. Cheatham said the homeowner, Hannah Pollard, has worked with their son for about two years. When she heard of the family’s plight, she stepped in to help.
“I met Jalin about two years ago when he was in sixth grade,” Pollard said, recalling how she met the Cheathams’ oldest son. As the fundraising committee chair for a class trip, Pollard said Jalin asked her for help since his funds were limited.
“I set up some work for him to do to raise money, and after that he came to my office once a week to see if anything needed to be done,” Pollard said.
The teenager and Pollard kept in touch, and when fire struck his home, Pollard opened her home to Jalin.
“My sister Libby called me the night of the fire to tell me whose house it was,” Pollard said. “Luckily nobody got hurt but they lost everything.” The large family was forced to separate their kids for a short time, she added.
As a way to get the family back together, Pollard invited Mr. and Mrs. Cheatham to the State Street house, which they’re now renting.
“I had it up for sale, but I took them over to the house for a walk-through and they loved it,” she said.
Pollard helped the parents acquire some bunk beds for their kids and some other home essentials.
“Libby and I put the message out and people just started responding,” Pollard recalled. “Within probably two weeks they had everything they needed.”
Among the things given to the family by the community were new family photos, courtesy of RG Lama Studios. The original photos were lost in the fire.
“It’s been a slow process putting a family of 10 back together, but the community has made it easy to do,” Pollard said. “With the community’s help they’ve been able to get back to normal as possible.”
The Cheathams moved to Medina almost two years ago and had about a year to determine what “normal” was for them in town. Family, according to Mr. Cheatham, is what brought them to the area.
It is the sense of family in the community that helped make Friday’s early Christmas celebration possible.