Wayne and Hazel Whitfield will have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving because of the volunteer efforts of their community.
The Evans couple will be handed the keys at 2 p.m. Thursday to their new Meadow Lane home - a residence that will replace one that was badly damaged and eventually became condemned.
"It's unbelievable," Mr. Whitfield said of the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house he'll soon be calling home.
With the keys, the Whitfields will not be handed an equally impressive mortgage, because the home was built by builders, churches, businesses, organizations and individuals who donated labor, money and materials to make sure the Whitfields had a safe home to live in.
"It was really just phenomenal how everything and everybody has come together," said Richard Harmon, Columbia County's Building and Commercial Services Division director, who began the process by condemning the Whitfield's house.
In February 2004, Mrs. Whitfield said, one of the large trees on her old lot fell on their home. They lived in the house as it was, blocking off parts of it and coping with the damage that they could not repair themselves. After several complaints from neighbors, Harmon checked the Whitfields' situation and found a large blue tarp covered a roof that was mostly caved in. Water that came in through the open roof every time it rained rotted much of the home's wooden frame and ruined most of the Whitfields' belongings.
"At the time, it was my home and I truly didn't want to admit what was going on," Mrs. Whitfield said. "But now that I look back on it, every room in it leaked. You could have gone into my living room when it rained and it was literally pouring in ... You just wouldn't believe what we were doing, but we were used to it. We did what we had to."
The Whitfields, who are both retired, were repeatedly denied loans to repair the damage and many roofers would not accept the job, lacking the heart to tell the couple the damage to their home was beyond repair, Mrs. Whitfield said.
Harmon said condemning the Whitfield's home in February was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do.
"But I couldn't let them stay there, even if I had to take them home with me," Harmon said, adding that the Whitfields eventually moved in with one of their children, who is married with three children. George Snelling, owner of several storage facilities, donated space for the Whitfields to store what belongings they took from the house.
Harmon, who knew caring people in the county, also made calls to Columbia County Commissioners Tom Mercer and Ron Cross. The two pooled money to put the Whitfields in a hotel until more permanent living arrangements could be made. Harmon also called Wesley United Methodist Church, which has a team that repairs roofs for the needy.
"It just blew my mind. It was pretty obvious they couldn't stay in the house," Mercer said after visiting the Whitfields' home. "This is a good thing. God is going to smile on Columbia County Thursday."
Tom Werner, the president of Pierwood Construction Co., said as a church member and part of the roofing team, he went with the team to inspect the potential roofing job.
"Our team went out and the house was just too far gone," Werner said.
Church officials called the Builders Association of Metro Augusta, which got involved with the work now dubbed the Compassion In Action Project.
"I knew we had builders in the county and the community and churches that would do things, they just have to know about it," Harmon said.
Mercer spoke to the Builders Association of Metro Augusta and started the project with a $100 donation of his own, he said. The word traveled rapidly among the building community and many developers, builders and subcontractors banded with Wesley. Lewis Memorial United Methodist Church made sure the Whitfields had groceries during the interim.
Werner, whose company took the lead in the project as the one to get building and other permits in its name, said the Whitfields signed over their home. The house and foundation were demolished and several large trees that engulfed the home were taken down.
"It's a team effort," Werner said, adding that many area companies, including Maner Builders Supply Co., Howard Lumber Co. and Mulherin Lumber Co., donated materials while others such as Creighton Laircey Co., Yohe Plumbing Co. and Augusta Ready Mix provided services and materials for free or drastically discounted prices.
The new home, which has been under construction for nearly six months, is an updated floor plan with new appliances and is much more energy-efficient than the one the Whitfields raised their family in. In the end, Werner said only $23,000 was put into the home, one that he said would easily sell for $100,000. Wesley United Methodist Church took out a $15,000 loan, but hopes to pay it off with donations.
"It's just unreal how people just came together," Mercer said.
Pat Williams, Wesley's director of care, has been involved in the project and said the church has received many donations already. Donations can be sent to in the name of Compassion In Action Project to Wesley United Methodist Church, 825 N. Belair Road, Evans GA 30809.
"I know why Evans was voted one of the best places in the country to live,'' Williams said. "It's the people that live here and their hearts.''
Williams said the builders association, Wesley United Methodist and the many other people and businesses involved hope to make the construction an annual event.
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