Renee Paulsen flipped through a book of photos Tuesday morning while recalling the many happy times she spent at her home in Sonora with her late husband, Don.
There was the one of the couple smiling while working in their garden, another of ferns they grew that won first-place ribbons at the Mother Lode Fair, their cats, Midnight and Tiger, and dog, Cowboy.
“That’s what it can look like,” she said after closing the book. She was sitting at the dining room table that belonged to Don’s grandmother, one of the few remaining items in the house.
Paulsen, who turns 77 today, then took out the rental agreement and read the terms to Nancy Rogerson, 66, who was sitting on the other side of the table with her granddaughters, Aleaya, 9, and Destiny, 4.
After the women signed the contract, Paulsen reached across the table to hold Rogerson’s hand.
“I’m very happy that you can be here,” Paulsen said. “It’s very near to my heart.”
Rogerson reassured her new landlord, “We will take care of this place like it’s our own.”
That moment ended Rogerson’s more than yearlong search to find a home for herself and her granddaughters.
The family has lived mostly at Sonora Gold Lodge on Stockton Road while they’ve been homeless, with the exception of four days in early February living out of Rogerson’s Dodge pickup when money and help ran out.
Rogerson had lived in a fifth-wheel trailer off of Rough and Ready Trail for seven years until her landlord died.
Paulsen is renting her home to Rogerson for $600 a month — far below what the house could fetch on the open market — because she said the story reminded her of her own grandmother, who took care of her while her mother worked for a bullet manufacturer in Los Angeles during World War II.
“I feel very happy because this was about how old I was when I was with my grandmother,” Paulsen said, pointing to Rogerson’s granddaughters who were doing splits in the living room.
The girls explored their new home and played hide-and-seek while Rogerson walked around the house with Josef Stoiber, a friend of Paulsen’s, looking for things that need to be repaired.
Jan Alderman, a friend of Rogerson’s, brought over supplies to help them clean before they started hauling over stuff from the motel and Rogerson’s storage space, where she keeps the furniture from her former home.
Alderman said other friends with trucks were also planning to help them move in.
The ending on Tuesday wouldn’t have been possible without the help of people who donated the money to cover Rogerson’s first and last month’s rent. Housing assistance from the government likely wouldn’t have been approved before the family was to check out of the motel today.
A donor who wished to remain anonymous covered the first month’s rent, while Jamestown couple and homeless advocates Dick and Hazel Mitchell covered the other half.
Hazel Mitchell said the money came directly from them and not from the nonprofit organization they co-founded called Give Someone a Chance, which provides aid to homeless people in the county.
Many people have donated money and supplies over the past couple of months to help Rogerson since she and her granddaughters were forced to live in her pickup with their three dogs in February.
Several people also paid to cover Rogerson’s rent at the motel for four weeks, but all wanted to remain anonymous.
David Weseman, 67, maxed out his credit line helping Rogerson and two other homeless families pay the rent at the motel while he, too, struggled to find a home.
The two other families eventually found housing and Weseman, who retired from the National Park Service in 2016, found a place to live in Tuolumne shortly before Rogerson and her granddaughters had to live in the truck, so he alerted The Union Democrat to their situation.
“I’ve just been so impressed how the whole community has stepped up to help them out,” Weseman said. “It makes Sonora look a lot better. It makes Sonora and Tuolumne County look like a place that cares.”
Rogerson said she could barely sleep Monday night and woke up at 6 a.m. Tuesday because she was so excited knowing they had a home.
She is confident the money she receives from Supplemental Security Income, cash aid and food stamps will be enough to take care of the rent, utilities and her granddaughters’ needs, but she just needed some extra help to find and get into a place.
“I want to make sure that everyone who helped me knows I appreciate what they’ve done for us,” Rogerson said. “I told Renee, ‘You’re God’s gift. At the time that we were so tired and running out of money, you showed up.’ “
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.