Family hopes gift will provide a home for Thanksgiving

Published 10:05 am Friday, November 25, 2016

By Kathy Chaffin

For the Enterprise

Just Hope, Inc. plans to open a transitional house for families in Cooleemee at 153 Main St., donated by the family of the late John Steven “Stevie” Smith, who died suddenly on Easter Sunday.

Krystal Dumas, founder and executive director of Just Hope, said she didn’t realize when Smith’s sister, Alice Smith Hanes, asked if the nonprofit would be willing to accept a house as a donation that she and her husband were the ones who would be donating it.

“The board members and I were overwhelmed with their kindness and generosity,” she said. “We were honored that they would want us to take over something that meant so much to Alice and her family in memory of her brother.”

Alice and Chris Hanes “are literally giving us a house so that multiple homeless or displaced families will have a roof over their heads,” she said. “That is one of the greatest gifts I can think of.”

“I think it totally shocked Krystal that somebody would want to give a house away,” Alice said. “That’s something you don’t do much in a lifetime. I hope it will inspire people who may have an empty house or property to share.”

Since Mocksville attorney Brian Williams was handling Stevie Smith’s estate settlement, he agreed to handle the legalities of transferring the home to Just Hope.

Dumas said the transitional house “will provide a safe and stable living environment to help the residents become productive members of society again after experiencing homelessness.”

Families chosen to live in the home will be selected on the basis of need, she said, as well as the length of time they have been homeless and their willingness to improve their financial situation. Screenings of families being considered for the home will include criminal record checks.

The expected stay of each family will be six months to a year. “It will give them a chance to be able to save and get in a better financial position,” Dumas said.

While they’re in the transitional home, she said the parents will be expected to open up savings and checking accounts and go through financial management and frugal living classes. Parents of families selected to live in the home, when able, will be required to pay a percentage of their utility costs and living expenses based on their income. “If they don’t have a job,” Dumas said, “we will help them find a job. If they need to apply for disability, we will help them with that.

“If they need a better paying job, we’ll help them get enrolled in classes so they will be qualified for a better paying job.”

Since starting the nonprofit in 2010, Dumas said she has helped few people who have no source of income.

Dumas and members of the Just Hope Board of Directors plan to place families in the transitional house that will make good neighbors for the residents around them. Singles will not be considered, and families will be chosen that the house can safely accommodate.

Just Hope volunteers will begin making repairs to the house – including stabilizing the floor – next month. After that, Dumas said she hopes to recruit volunteers from youth groups, area churches and civic clubs to help with painting the home and other cosmetic improvements.

“Hopefully, we will be open by February,” she said. “We’ll have a ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony at that time.”

While celebrating Thanksgiving with their families this week, Dumas said she hopes other people will consider donating their time or money to the homeless in our community.

“You don’t have to donate a house to help,” she said. Contributing to utility costs, donating furniture or volunteering to help get the house ready for occupancy are other ways people can help.

Alice Hanes became a supporter of Just Hope, shortly after the nonprofit, located beneath the NAPA Auto Parts at 279 N. Main St. in Mocksville, started. She also volunteers at Storehouse for Jesus, the community garden and her church, First United Methodist in Mocksville. Alice and her husband, Chris, are involved with the Davie Community Foundation, having set up a scholarship fund and started a fund to help at-risk children.

Stevie was devoted to his mother, Janet Smith of Mocksville, Alice said, and when he didn’t come visit her on Good Friday, she and the rest of the family became concerned and tried to call him. He didn’t answer, but they didn’t worry too much because it wasn’t unusual for him to not answer his phone.

When he still hadn’t visited their mother on Easter Sunday, they decided to go check on him. That’s when they found him. Brent Crotts, the on-call medical examiner that day, attributed his death to a massive heart attack.

“We would like to thank all of the various agencies that left their families on Easter Sunday and responded to the call,” Alice said. “We couldn’t have asked for more compassionate and professional groups.”

Stevie, who would have been 63 this past Sunday, was getting ready to retire from Ingersoll-Rand after 43 years. His sudden death was difficult for his mother and the rest of the family. Janet Smith had already lost a son, Richard, to brain cancer right before Thanksgiving in 2010.

“Thanksgiving was very special to our family because my brother, Richard, who lived in  Muncie, Ind., would visit for the whole week,” Alice said, “and he and Stevie would pal around and have the best time. I think Richard’s death really affected him because they had made plans to travel the country together.”

It was when Stevie’s family was working on his house while trying to decide what to do with it that Alice had what she describes as a “God wink.” It was “just like a light bulb going off,” she said. “It happened right after Monica fell off a ladder and broke her wrist.”

Alice called Monica’s husband, Joe, to come take her to emergency room. After finishing up painting at Stevie’s house, she drove by their house to check on her sister.

“I had the craziest idea,” Alice told her. “What would you think about donating Stevie’s house to Just Hope? We know that it’s going to take a lot more work and expense to get the house ready for someone else to move in. Krystal and her board members have lots of connections to people who could do the repairs that it needs.”

During their conversation, Alice proposed that she and Chris buy other family members’ shares in the house. Monica liked the idea. So did their mother, brother Bobby, who lives in Idaho, and Monica’s children, Sharon Lawson, who lives in Mocksville, and Kevin Jordan, who lives in Boston, Mass., all of whom were included in Stevie’s will.

The tax value of the house was last listed as $69,000.

“I think it makes my family happy to know that it can help people,” Alice said. “Now the house will be in good hands, and it will continue to do good just like Stevie did right by his family.”

At age 15, Stevie made the decision to drop out of high school to help support his family by working at the service station their father managed. His two older brothers were in the armed services during that time. “He felt he was the only one left to help the family out,” Alice said, “because Monica and I were still in middle school.

“We grew up poor,” she said, “but we were lucky. We had a roof over our heads unlike more and more families today.”

Stevie went to work at Ingersoll in 1973, starting at the Mocksville plant and later transferring to the Davidson plant. He was living in an apartment near there when his father died, leaving his mother a widow at the age of 54. Stevie then transferred back to the Mocksville plant and moved in with his mother so he could help support her and the rest of the family once again.

Throughout his life, Stevie continued to be devoted to his family. Though he never married and had children of his own, he loved being an uncle to Monica and Joe’s children and grandchildren. Alice said he looked forward to buying Christmas gifts for them and the rest of the family. He started shopping early, she said, ordering most of their gifts from catalogs.

On Christmas morning, “Stevie would fill the back of his 1957 Chevrolet delivery wagon just like Santa Claus pulling his sleigh,” she said. “He was a very giving spirit. He even looked like Santa with his white hair and beard and played Santa at the Jordans’ Christmas Eve dinners.”

Stevie also enjoyed working at Ingersoll-Rand. He was close to his coworkers, who nicknamed him “Woo Woo” at one of their Christmas parties at Bermuda Run, where Stevie shouted “Woo” every time their pretty waitress walked by. Soon everyone was calling him that, Alice said. His fellow golfing buddies once jokingly held a “Woo Woo Golf Tournament” in his honor.

Stevie’s blue ’57 Chevy was a familiar sight in Cooleemee and at Ingersoll. “It was nice to start with,” Alice said, “but then someone ran into it. He was spray painting “Oops” on it but spelled it incorrectly, painted an “X” over it and covered it with “Ouch.”

“He and his friends and family called his car “Ouch,” she said. “He was an interesting character.”

Like his older brothers, Stevie worked on cars with their father at the service station he managed and fell in love with old cars. He also loved NASCAR and went to all the races that were within driving distance until recent years.

Alice said he never missed recording a race on his VCR. “We took hundreds and hundreds of tapes to the Richard Childress Museum in Lexington,” she said. “It’s kind of historical that he had every race taped from the 1980s (when they first started being televised) until 2015, when his VCR broke.”

They also donated box after box of his NASCAR newspapers, magazines and books to the Winston Cup Museum in Winston-Salem. “It makes us feel good that the things he loved can be enjoyed by others,” Alice said.

Stevie collected records and loved to listen to rock and roll music. “We used to sit around an old AM/FM radio on New Year’s Eve and listen to the Top 100 Countdown,” Alice said. “He would write them all down in a book. You could say, ‘Hey Stevie, what was the No. 1 song the week I was born?’ And he could tell you.”

Though he dated, Stevie never married. When Alice asked him what he was going to do when he retired, she said he said, “I’m going to travel, get me a trophy wife and a dog … I’m not going to get a sissy dog. I’m going to get a real dog, a big dog.”

Alice said Stevie purchased his house in Cooleemee in 1986 and loved living there. “He wasn’t born in Cooleemee,” she said, “but he pretty much adopted the town and the people there adopted him. He was a bit of a loner, but he had a few neighbors he was close to.”

Alice said she wants to reassure Stevie’s neighbors in Cooleemee that Just Hope will place responsible people in his house. “This will be like a stepping stone for them,” she said. “I think they’ll be good neighbors and take pride in where they’re able to live until they get something permanent.”

Through her support of Just Hope, Alice said she learned quickly that Dumas was “the real deal.” While distributing food to Just Hope clients living at two motels in Mocksville, Alice said she learned how easily homelessness can happen.

“It might be someone’s vehicle breaks down, and that person is not able to get to work,” she said, “or the cost of a catastrophic illness leaves them unable to pay their bills. Many families live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to put them in a position where they could lose their homes.”

Alice said she hopes others in the county will consider donating vacant homes or property to Just Hope. By donating Stevie’s home, she said her family feel reassured knowing that the nonprofit will get the house in good condition. “For people that are property rich and tax poor,” Alice said “it’s also an ideal tax write-off before the end of the year.”

For Stevie’s family, there will be another empty chair at their table this Thanksgiving. “When we go around the table asking what we’re thankful for this year,” Alice said, “we can take comfort in the fact that next year at this time, a family will have a table to sit around and celebrate the holidays in Stevie’s home and not be cramped together in a motel room or campsite.

“Hopefully, Thanksgiving will be as special to them as it was to Stevie.”