Aba Atlas spent two years scrounging every penny to ensure his mother would always have a home to call her own.
Eight months after both the 23-year-old and his mom shot to Internet stardom in an emotional YouTube video, Atlas said he realizes the true gift to his mother has been the freedom to live life beyond its four walls.
The Ottawa resident said that newfound liberty was precisely what he had in mind when he embarked on a project to pay down the mortgage on the home in which she had raised her five children and bid goodbye to her late husband.
Realizing her own wages as a hotel housekeeper would always leave her strapped for cash, Atlas — then a private in the Royal Canadian Army — took advantage of his low cost military room and board to start saving up for a down payment.
When he finally reached his goal in April of this year, he presented her with a cheque and captured the emotional exchange on film.
The resulting YouTube video, "Dear Mother," made her something of a local celebrity in her adopted hometown of Ottawa.
"I guess it's her getting a lot of calls from people, and every day she likes telling me stories ... of how a lot of people recognize her from the video," Atlas said in a telephone interview.
Atlas said his mother — who he declined to name — has cut back her work hours since receiving her gift and has been able to spend more time with friends and family.
She's also begun to enjoy the benefits of increased cash flow and decreased stress levels, he said.
Still, the idea of leading a life of true leisure had no appeal for a woman who has centred her life around hard work, he said, adding regular shifts at the hotel still anchor her week.
"For so many years of working so long, she just got used to the cycle," he said. "She just couldn't imagine staying around the house doing nothing."
Atlas himself has come in for a share of his mother's fame, he said, adding he's fielded numerous compliments from strangers over the video he made and the impulses behind it.
His actions have also caused a slight uptick in family tension, however. Atlas said cousins have half-jokingly complained that his altruism has set an unreasonably high bar for others of his generation.
"It's more of a teasing kind of comment, but I get it a lot now. Especially from people around my age saying, 'You put a lot of pressure on us,'" he said.
Even though his mother now lives mortgage free, Atlas said he has a new set of financial goals to meet.
He's currently hoarding the wages he earns as a dance instructor in an effort to accumulate a travel fund.
Fortunately for him, frugal habits die hard. Atlas said he'll have to save for one more year before he'll have enough for a two-year expedition through Europe and Australia.
While there, Atlas said he plans to go on reaching out to global youth by teaching hip hop and salsa moves to the kids he meets on the road.
"I've kind of adjusted to this minimalist lifestyle. My money goes towards what's important, which is my work," he said. "I'm kind of just investing back into the business now."