Rene Richardson and U.S. Army Sgt. Erika Hart are bonded by faith – and Coca-Cola.
The women first met six years ago at Sharon Baptist Church in Augusta and have extended their bond outside the sanctuary. Richardson has opened her home to Hart’s two children during Hart’s recent deployment to Afghanistan.
It was at Sharon Baptist in May when Richardson overheard Hart’s dilemma: The Martinez mom needed a safe, stable environment for her children DeAdrien, 14, and Keilah, 11, while she was away.
“One of the things that our pastor teaches us is to love louder,” said Richardson, also of Martinez. “That makes a big difference in someone’s life if you can just touch someone and just love them a little louder, even if it’s just a pleasant smile or a hug or just a small conversation. It just makes a difference in someone else’s life. I guess I’m all about trying to make a difference.”
Hart’s unit, the 179th Military Police Company out of Fort Stewart, left Aug. 24 and has not been notified of a return date.
Richardson’s efforts to help her neighbor were recognized by Coca-Cola’s Gold Peak Tea.
The brand launched a national search to find someone deserving of $100,000 to take the year off work. Richardson is one of five finalists selected from thousands of entries.
“Her story is very inspiring with that selflessness of not just wanting the year off and the $100,000 for herself, but to really provide that love and comfort of home to children of a fellow parishioner,” said Gold Peak Tea Brand Manager Meg Haley.
A winner of the contest will be announced after Labor Day.
Richardson works in the Medical College of Georgia Hospital’s patient accounting department and has pondered what she might do with the money if she wins.
“One of the things I had thought about was opening up a college fund for them,” Richardson said of Hart’s children as well as her own son, Tyrese, 11.
For Richardson and Hart, education is a priority.
Having her children with someone who shares the same values makes Hart feel at ease, she said.
For DeAdrien and Keilah, remaining at their church was a top priority, Hart said.
The two children have been staying in Richardson’s home since the summer as Hart traveled back and forth to Fort Stewart for training.
The transition, for the most part, has been smooth as the two families mesh, said Richardson, who is determined to keep everyone on a structured routine.
The boys, who both have after-school activities, are sharing a room and Richardson converted her guest room into personal space for Keilah.
“I really did it because it’s just something I felt you’re supposed to do,” said Richardson. “It takes a village to raise children.
“We have to do it together.”