West End rebuilds burned home
On Saturday afternoon, Katie Cole received the keys to a new home that Good Samaritans call an example of what love can accomplish.
Cole’s first steps into the one-story structure also were an invitation to the public to attend the Katie’s Project open house.
Four years ago, only charred remnants of Cole’s home stood at the address on Poplar Street. An electrical fire had destroyed the house with regal columns that had been in her family for generations.
That was the first of her troubles.
Her insurance company canceled her home policy when she couldn’t pay for a new roof. The city wanted the home demolished, but Cole didn’t have the money to have the house razed.
That’s when the West End Housing Initiative stepped in and created Katie’s Project.
One of the first calls to action came a block away from St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church. The Rev. Joe E. Barber contacted West End Hope in Action, a coalition of community groups that works to make life better for neighborhoods.
Chuck Bayne, 67, a West End associate, said that in Cole’s neighborhood, many residents face a dilemma: whether to pay for food or to repair homes built decades ago.
“She was born and raised here,” he said. “She’s part of the fabric of the community.”
He contacted Ralph Gibson, a longtime friend and owner of Debsteel, Inc., a steel erection company, to reach out for help in the construction community. His first stop was at Alamo 1. After the owner heard the dilemma, he agreed to help — his workers demolished the home the next week for free.
But that was just the beginning. The group spent a year getting paperwork and permits together, along with engineers and architects who donated their time. The group broke ground on the new home in late May,
A concrete company donated the cement. Someone volunteered to take care of the plumbing. Southwest Exteriors had workers who did home repair ministry. McCoy’s Lumber provided and installed the exterior HardiePlank lap siding.
“People were coming out of nowhere,” Bayne said. “They’d stop by and say, things like, ‘Hey, I do roofing.’ ”
Gibson, now retired, spent his days at the site.
He recalled a day when a rough-looking man stopped outside and gave him an intense glare that had Gibson questioning his intentions. He was relieved when the man thanked him for the good job he was doing on the house. After that, every time the man walked by, he waved and cheered on the work crew.
Cole has been out of the home for four years. She stayed with her brother, who recently died, and has been living with a grandson since then.
There have been times when spirits were low, but the outpouring from strangers lifted her back up.
Gibson recalled when Cole’s son and one of her grandsons came inside of the home and sat down. New fixtures filled the rebuilt home where his mother had raised him. Minutes later, they looked at each other and cried.
The retired business owner said he hadn’t been interested in charity work for most of his life.
In 2002, his daughters asked why the family didn’t go to church. He said he saw life through a different lens after attending services.
He started paying attention to the needs of others and helping people — like Cole.
“She’s really moved by it all,” Gibson said, “and very grateful.”
Fernando Trujillo embraces Katie Cole as she tours her new home, which the community built after her West End home suffered extensive damage in a fire.