West End re­builds burned home

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - metro - By Vin­cent T. Davis STAFF WRITER vt­[email protected]­press-news.net

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.”

Robin Jer­stad / Con­trib­u­tor

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.

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