Jessica Meade holds her daughter Jarubia in her bedroom in her newly restored mobile home.
Community Helps Restores Home for Single Mother, Children
Say your house catches on fire due to no fault of your own. It’s a Wednesday night. You’re at church when you get the frantic call from your neighbor. Up until now, it’d been a peaceful day of celebration, your daughter’s first birthday. A surge protector in a back bedroom sparked and caught fire. By the time you make it home, your mobile home is nothing but a soggy, burnt husk, and you and your five children are suddenly without a home, two days shy of your home insurance policy kicking in as you waited for your next check.
Such was the case for Jessica Meade, a newly divorced single mom and full-time daycare provider, who prior to the fire had been well on her way to getting back on her feet. In some communities, Meade’s tragedy may have gone under the wire, just another hard luck tale. But in Gillette, however, as Meade and her children have since learned, people step up to help, from offering temporary housing to discounted hotel rooms, donated clothes and appliances to help rebuilding her home, thanks to Brenda Kirk and the newly revitalized Energy Capital Habitat for Humanity (ECHFH) nonprofit.
Today, nearly 10 months later, Meade and Kirk look around the freshly restored mobile home that they – accompanied by a team of about a dozen volunteers – have rebuilt all the way down to the 2 x 4s in the home’s new walls. Prior to this project, neither woman knew anything about carpentry, dry wall or plumbing, but now joke that they could open their own companies, Kirk in dry wall and Meade in plumbing, having recently installed a toilet and sink solely by watching YouTube tutorials on.
Kirk, who takes a hands-on approach to her executive director role at ECHFH, said this is the group’s first rebuild in a couple years, after the nonprofit reformed in the wake of losing its volunteer board. All but her, that is. Given her passion for the cause, she stepped in as executive director and was hired in February, but in the wake of COVID, did not formally begin until June as all parties struggled to find their footing in the middle of a pandemic, including Meade and her family whose lives hung in the balance.
And despite the fact that the mobile home does not yet have a working toilet or running water, Meade and her children were in the process of moving back in, amongst the pile of furniture stacked Jenga-style in a corner on top of a paint-splattered drop cloth. The kitchen cabinetry was only half-way installed with the new furnace still wrapped in plastic, courtesy the Council of Community Services LIEAP program. Except for the burnt top of the front door that has not yet been replaced, and the faint smell of lingering campfire smoke, the trailer looked brand new.
Tonight will be the first night the family has slept in their own beds after months of temporary housing and staying with family and friends.
It’s been a long year, Meade sighed, and despite the chaos and mess around her, she can’t stop smiling as she looked around at her new home, which she said is the perfect ending to what was otherwise an awful year, during which, along with the fire, she’d also been in the midst of a divorce when her mom died from cancer. The fire had been the tipping point.
“I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Meade said of that night. “In one instant, everything was just gone.”
Now, however, she sees it as all part of God’s plan, as admittedly, the rebuild has afforded her a much nicer home. Who knew that the mobile home was essentially held together by cardboard and staples, Meade said with a laugh, as she and Kirk recounted the process of entirely gutting the badly burnt and smoke-damaged home.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Meade said with a tired smile. “I’m just so grateful to Brenda and everyone who helped. I owe them everything. They’ve been so great.”
Meade pointed to a piece of blue tape on the floor, which had been the door to the master bedroom that her two teenage daughters had shared where the fire had begun. One benefit of having one’s home burn down, Meade noted, is that now she had the ability to reconfigure the original floor plan to better suit her family, breaking the original master into two rooms with a full bath and laundry room.
Two weeks ago, Kirk, Meade and a team of ECHFH volunteers from community groups, local businesses and individual volunteers had come together to help rebuild the walls, replace windows and put in flooring, which is now much sturdier than it was before. Yesterday, Meade and her children began painting their rooms, and for the first time in all of their lives, they got to got to choose their own colors.
Meade went with a light blue while her teenage daughter Harley chose black, and sons Amund and Hezekiah went with black and red. Though Meade questioned their choice of colors, a deal is a deal, she said.
Right now, the family is in the process of unpacking and setting things up as they go through boxes and assembles their lives back together. Meade just brought in her bed, which belonged to her mother, while her youngest daughter Jarubia fished a stuffed animal out of a hole in a plastic bag as she crawled on the bedroom floor. It’s starting to feel like home, Meade said with a smile, struggling to find the words to thank Kirk and ECHFH, and all those people who stepped in to help a stranger literally build a roof over her head and home for her family.