Samantha Thompson is 13 years old and has lived in 13 different places. This last one, she says, is going to stick.
“This house just feels different,” says Samantha, a rising eighth-grader. “I know I am not going anywhere. And that feels good.”
What also feels good is practicing cheerleading moves in her very own front yard, hanging photos on her very own bedroom walls and being able to draw pictures of her very own house. “I love to draw,” Samantha says. “The coolest thing about this house? I’m going with the fireplace.”
This past November, Samantha, her 7-year-old sister Elizabeth and their parents, Patrick and Christine, moved into a Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity home.
Many of the moves in Samantha’s life followed her father, an infantryman in the U.S. Army. More recently, the family found itself relying on friends and transitional housing shelters for places to live after Samantha’s dad, who fought on the frontlines during multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, began suffering from severe PTSD. “I was very anxious then,” Samantha says.
Samantha has lost track of exactly how many different schools she has attended over her lifetime. She counts at least 10, three in middle school alone. There are some years when she wasn’t enrolled long enough to even get a report card and often had to play catch-up academically. Making new friends at each new school was the hardest, she says. Leaving them was next. “It was always hard saying good-bye.”
After Samantha’s dad took a medical retirement from the Army in 2013, the Thompsons applied to various programs for disabled soldiers but never heard anything. Then they applied to Richmond Metropolitan Habitat after reading about its veterans’ homeownership program. After they were accepted, the Thompsons, their neighbors, Habitat volunteers and staff rehabbed and renovated a house, which had sat empty for years.
The home was dedicated on Nov. 11, 2014, Veterans Day. “It is nice to know that we have stability,” says Samantha’s mom, Christine, who calls the house the family’s “forever home.”
Samantha remembers when she first realized that she finally had a place to call home. “It was the first night sleeping in the house with all of my furniture,” she says. “It hit me. This is my room. And I won’t have to pack it.”
The months leading up to Build-A-Thon (BAT) I did not really know what to expect. I knew how important the work we would be doing was. I know how important the work Habitat does period after spending the last almost year serving with Habitat. I will admit freely that I was very nervous going to BAT. I signed up for a few days prior to BAT working on a build site in my time off, one day we did painting and one day we did framing. The day we did framing I learned I had no idea how to hammer a nail properly; if I did not know how to properly hammer a nail then how would I survive a week in the Louisiana heat building a home for a very deserving family. I had my work cut out for me and I had much to learn.
The house my team worked on, the Kelly Green house, was not quite as far along as some of the houses when we got to it. The roof was not complete. The team before us had not begun to put up the siding and they had just started sheet rocking the walls inside. Siding a house with a hammer and a nail on Hardie Plank board is not easy. Hardie Plank board is concrete board that is a fantastic siding and holds up to weather beautifully. We use it at my affiliate. We also use nail guns to install siding because it is so tough to hammer through.
I worked with a group of 4 other people doing the siding of the entire back of the house. It was great, we bonded, we joked, and I learned quite a bit from AmeriCorps National members who work on construction sites daily. We called ourselves the ‘back of the house crew’ and we were quite proud of our little area of house that we were working on.
I have a fear of ladders; I did not want this to hold me back and I wanted to get things done because that’s what AmeriCorps is about, that was the reason I was there. When it came time for me to get on a ladder to install some of the siding, I was hesitant about the first one or two rungs. Then it came time to climb a bit higher. I went to the third rung and I could feel the pit in my stomach start to churn and as I was hammering nails into the Hardie Plank, my hands were shaking. I felt ridiculous. I as barely 3 feet off the ground and here I was scared. So I pushed myself. I went to the fourth rung of the ladder and the ladder began to shake. And so did I. I pressed my body against the house as hard as I could. I realized then that I had never been that high up on a ladder before. I instantly thought I was going to vomit. At that point I was completely terrified and my spotter Charlie could tell that something was wrong. I then had to admit to my team that their little happy-go-lucky teammate was scared and trying to push through and conquer her fears. Everyone supported me. No one made fun of me or belittled my feelings.
From that moment on I was the gofer. I went and got more siding, I remembered measurements, I predrilled holes when we got close to the gable, I caulked, I got more supplies, I spotted, I got them more water, I carried siding from the containers to the cutting area and I cut siding. I was the man on the ground. I felt needed and supported and they never let me leave. I was a part of the team until the very end.
AmeriCorps is about getting things done in the United States and in our communities but I feel that it also brings people together and when we need lifting up, we lift each other up. We were all there for one common cause and we were all on one team that week. Because I had fears, my team was not going to let that stop me from still being a part of the team. I still belonged. That is an amazing feeling of community within a group of strangers and I will never forget it.
This Friday, July 3rd, the ReStore is having a massive Evergreen sale. Every single Evergreen item will be reduced to $1.00. Items include, but are not limited to festive flags, college flags, NCAA/NFL paraphernalia, wine stoppers, glasses, quirky knick-knacks, and more. What better way to spend the day than to peruse the $1.00 items at the ReStore? Maybe you will find the perfect decorations for Independence Day weekend… Only one way to find out!