WASHINGTON — When Phillip and Tina Rolfes were told they and their three kids had to leave their apartment in northern Kentucky because their handicapped daughter made too much noise to the dismay of a downstairs neighbor, their parish stepped up to help.
Utilizing a GoFundMe online campaign, Father George Hajj, pastor, and parishioners at St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church in Cincinnati, were hoping to raise $45,000 to help the Rolfes family buy their own home and leave apartment living behind.
With about month to go March 19, over $23,000 had been raised — $15,500 online and another $6,000 at the parish, Father Hajj said.
For that, the Rolfeses are grateful.
“We have a house picked out. We put an offer on a house that was accepted,” Phillip Rolfes, 33, told Catholic News Service. “We’re going through the paperwork right now. Our closing date is April 20 provided everything goes well.”
The house is in suburban Loveland, northeast of Cincinnati. The town was selected because of its quality school program for children with special needs.
The couple’s oldest daughter, Chiara, 9, was born with 5p- syndrome (five p minus), also known as Cat Cry syndrome or Cri du Chat syndrome. Geneticists use the term to describe people who have a part of chromosome number five that is missing.
About 50 to 60 children in the United States are born each year with the syndrome, which is characterized at birth by a high-pitched cry, low birth weight, poor muscle tone, microcephaly and, at times, other medical complications.
Rolfes said his daughter’s condition causes her to seek sensory feedback, so she often bangs her hands or feet on the floor or engages in other sometimes noisy activities.
For the five years, the Rolfeses have lived in Fort Mitchell, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, whomever lived downstairs understood the situation. The Rolfeses remained in the apartment because the public school Chiara attended had an especially good program for special needs students.
Then new tenants moved in. Apparently not liking Chiara’s pounding, they filed a noise complaint with the apartment complex management. Soon the Rolfeses were told they had 60 days to move. Deadline: March 10.
Rolfes, who works full time for Dynamic Catholic and part time for Fuzati, a Catholic marketing firm, said at times the new tenants responded to Chiara’s actions by banging on pots themselves and at one point they even blasted an air horn.
That’s when the Rolfeses filed their own noise complaint.
The family also appealed the eviction notice, asking for a reprieve until the end of the school year so Chiara would not be torn from her teachers and classmates in the middle of the school year. The apartment manager relented, giving the Rolfes until June 10 to move.
Meanwhile, Phillip and Tina had been talking with Father Hajj. He knew of their plight. He also saw the family every Sunday in the last pew in church — so as not to disturb other parishioners. While the Rolfeses had saved money with the hope of eventually buying a home, their timeline suddenly changed and they were concerned that a purchasing a house now would deplete their savings for an emergency. That’s when Father Hajj suggested the GoFundMe campaign.
Father Hajj said he and the parish had no choice but to help.
“We’re putting what we preach into action,” he told CNS. “They really are a beautiful witness to faith. They are a trusting family and a faithful family,” the priest said.
Money collected through the campaign will help furnish the home, pay down the mortgage and provide a financial cushion for the unexpected.
The Rolfeses have two other children. Andrew, 6, attends kindergarten at St. Gertrude School in Cincinnati, 30 minutes from Fort Mitchell. Daughter Jenna is 3.
Tina, 33, is a full-time caregiver for Chiara.
If all goes well, the family will be in their new modest home in Loveland by June. While larger than their two-bedroom apartment, quarters will still be tight for the growing family.
“We’ll take what we can get,” Phillip Rolfes said.