From Chaos to Kindness: Band Finds Home for Local Woman

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Susanne Mackenzie rejoices in front of her new home on North Street in Calais. Mackenzie was living in a 150-square foot shed in Talmadge when nationally-known band Recycled Percussion came forward to assist her in renting a home for the next six months. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

As one of the poorest counties in the state, it isn’t difficult to acknowledge that there are people living in Washington County in difficult conditions. What surprises people is when they learn about the challenges of their co-workers, their neighbors, and their steady acquaintances – people that often bear their hardships in silence, unwilling to burden those around them. When the situation of Susanne Mackenzie, who has been living in a shed in Talmadge, became increasingly publicly discussed, it inspired the action of a nationally-known band: Recycled Percussion, whose Emmy-nominated television show Chaos & Kindness captures its ongoing efforts of promoting goodwill.

The band found out about Susanne’s situation through her friends on Facebook, who contacted the band to ask for their assistance. They were moved by what they heard. “Sue’s story just stuck out to me,” shared Justin Spencer, who explains that they receive upwards of thousands of messages a week. “I just felt the right thing to do was help her. I hadn’t ever met or even talked to her until we arrived on her doorstep yesterday.”

Mackenzie’s former home in Talmadge “more or less fell apart,” she describes, making it unlivable. She lived briefly in South Carolina with her relatives before they experienced their own residential instability. Since May, she’s been living in a 150-square foot, half-insulated rented shed with her dogs and an extension cord running from her neighbors. She hadn’t had a proper shower in that amount of time.

Mackenzie was contacted by the band over the weekend, learning that they were setting out on the six-hour drive to come and meet her and interview her. Throughout the day, Mackenzie said that Spencer was texting – she didn’t realize he was texting an assistant. The assistant, in turn, was checking with local landlords for available properties. After some searching around, they were put in touch with Rod Tirrell, owner of Rise and Shine Property Management. Tirrell informed them of a newly-available property on North Street, and the arrangements were made - all without Mackenzie’s knowledge.

When they went to drop her off in Talmadge, they said, “Oh, by the way, we got you a three-bedroom house in Calais,” Mackenzie recalled with a laugh. “I was like, ‘What!’”

Mackenzie called her co-worker, Beth, who has been a steady support over the past several months, to share the news. Mackenzie works at Walmart as a cashier, while her companion, Beth, works in apparel. The two have developed a close mother-daughter relationship, despite not having family ties. Beth’s own living conditions are challenging, including a lack of adequate hot water.

Beth plans to stay with Mackenzie. “I honestly didn’t believe it until I stalked them on Facebook,” Beth said. “I thought, ‘This is too good to be true.’”

“It caught everyone off guard,” Tirrell said. He was in Bangor at his granddaughter’s birthday party when Heather Henry Tenan contacted him and asked if he had any lodging available. “‘She said, ‘A TV show wants to talk with you.’” Initially in disbelief, Tirrell followed through and was amazed at the response from the band.

Part of Recycled Percussion’s mission is to spread both chaos and kindness – hence the aptly-descriptive name of their show. “We have been doing things like this for years,” Spencer said. “It’s what makes us happy. Growing up, my family struggled at times, so I know the effect this has on people.”

Mackenzie’s new home is beautifully remodeled inside, though work is still being done on the exterior. Tirrell was happy to share that there was a new hot water boiler installed and both Mackenzie and Beth could enjoy long showers. Mackenzie was more than thrilled with the abode, sharing how she particularly loved how much sunlight it received. “It’s really nice. For an old house, it’s really good.” In reflecting on the situation, she mused how the band’s television show was perfectly named. “It’s like coming out of the chaos and into the kindness.” Beth fully appreciated her friend’s happiness as they toured their home. “I just love seeing you smile. I haven’t seen you smile this much since I met you.”

 

Recycled Percussion has paid for six months of Mackenzie’s rent. Tirrell says that while the new living conditions are wonderful, he doesn’t think “they’re done yet.” His own business is covering the security deposit, and he is aware of donations coming in from his fellow officers in the Calais Police Department, including a dining room table. Others are contributing what they can to help Mackenzie settle into her new home, which is currently furnished only with a futon.