For the first time in their lives, two Charleston children have a proper home to call their own after the community came together to build it.
Sandra Thomas, like many grandparents in West Virginia, is raising her grandchildren following her daughter’s death from an overdose last year.
Until roughly eight months ago, the family of three was staying in Thomas’ sister’s garage. The home Thomas owned on the city’s West Side was hollowed out — there was no indoor plumbing, the walls stood without insulation and the beds sat on a bare floor.
Now, there are new wooden floors. A water line and a gas line extend to main connections in the backyard. What used to be a front porch is now a larger living room, and the back porch a bathroom.
“I’m feeling overwhelmed today, but so thankful for all the people who came together and helped us,” Thomas said. “It’s been hard since we lost their mother — it’s really hard. I just want to get through it and this, it’s going to help a whole lot.”
David Parks, who works as a building inspector and project coordinator for the city of Charleston, organized the project outside of work after he saw the condition of the house. He called workers he knew from Builders FirstSource and other organizations, who were more than willing to donate their time and expertise to remodel the house and make it habitable.
It wasn’t the first time they’d done a project like this, though, Parks said.
“It wasn’t our first rodeo, I’ll say that. We helped a veteran in the past, and take on projects like this when we can,” Parks said. “It wouldn’t be possible without my friends here. They really made it a reality.”
Builders FirstSource helped the group get deals on materials and tools, while workers donated their time. The Lowes, at Southridge Centre, donated a ton of material, Parks said, and people from all over Charleston — even city officials — pitched in with the labor.
With each project, there’s an opportunity to make even more friends, Parks said, and this time he got to meet Richard Thompson, a pastor at Bible Center Church.
Thompson and his wife, who are not related to Thomas or her grandchildren, own and manage property around the city. About eight months ago, he offered for Thomas to stay in one of the houses, as a transitional home of sorts, until work on her home was complete.
“They got us in a home, and we had to get used to being in a house again,” Thomas said. “They gave us the opportunity to do that, and now we have a home that’s really our own. That’s the first time the kids can say that, in their lives.”
Thomas saw the finished home for the first time on Saturday, and she wasn’t the only one who was excited. Five-year-old Brandon was jumping on his bed, which was decked out in a Paw Patrol comforter, before running over to play with toy trucks sitting on a dresser under his window.
His sister sat in the living room on a couch, donated by someone in the Mayor’s Office, eating a Christmas cookie and smiling.
“There is no greater joy than helping people, and I’m happy we finished before Christmas,” Thompson said. “Watching this come together and seeing how everyone gave their time, it’s inspiring. With all the bad going on, we sometimes forget about the good, and this shows you what good the people around here are capable of.”
The project took roughly a year to complete. Throughout that time, several volunteers and groups gave their time. And it wasn’t just for the construction — some donated appliances, like a new washer and dryer.
In the corner of the living room, a Christmas tree was lit up with dozens of gifts underneath it, all donated by people around the city. There are even more gifts that haven’t made it under the tree yet, and will get there on Christmas morning for the children to unwrap.
Thomas said she was completely in awe of how much the community gave to help her, and to make this a memorable Christmas for her grandchildren.
Parks, though, said it shouldn’t be surprising — people should be able to lean on their neighbors when they need to.
“We’re all volunteers, and none of us want to see someone around us struggling like this. Not in our home, our city, in the Kanawha Valley,” Parks said. “We need to help when we can, all of us, and that’s what we did here.”