COLUMBIA — Walter Lewis, 58, plastered the trims of the windows on the left side of Almeta Crayton's home. Two children, Mark Hajicek, 8, and Kylee Parker, 10, strolled behind him while carrying branches they had cleared from the backyard. As Lewis dunked his scraper in plaster compound, he mentioned he had never done plasterwork before.
"Almeta is going to be so happy," Lewis said.
Lewis has known Crayton for about 25 years. They met each other through her next-door neighbor. His connection to her has led him to serve as a volunteer for the home improvement project Fairview Road Church of Christ has been doing for the past five years in Columbia. This year, the organization decided to renovate Crayton's home.
Crayton has been the driving force behind charity efforts such as the Everybody Eats Thanksgiving food drive and dinner, which has been held for the past 15 years. She relies on volunteers and donations by the community to help provide Thanksgiving meals to people across town.
Crayton also served as the First Ward representative on the Columbia City Council for nine years and founded Columbia's Neighborhood Resource Center.
Now, it's time for Crayton to be on the receiving end.
A volunteer effort
At 8 a.m Wednesday, Lewis and a team of about 40 people entered the home with the hope of completing the renovation by the end of Saturday. Volunteers will be working two shifts each day, each four hours long.
Leveling floors, fixing the roof and installing new windows were initially in the plans for Crayton's home in the 400 block of Oak Street. When the team surveyed the house two weeks ago, volunteers realized it needed more work than they had anticipated.
Wednesday morning, new windows were being installed, walls were painted over and the backyard was cleared of branches.
By noon Thursday, during the volunteers' third shift, a shed had replaced the branches in the backyard, a ramp at the home's entrance was in the process of being cemented and walls were being painted yellow and blue.
Volunteers have come from all over. Some are part of the church. Some have known Crayton for years, and some work with organizations such as Columbia Builds Youth.
Jerry Templer, 74, is a retired physician who helps coordinate Crayton's home renovation.
"She has been very appreciative," he said. "She says it's been the answer to her prayers."
At noon Thursday, Crayton pulled up to the house in a cab. She had just come back from the dialysis treatment she receives three times a week.
As she walked through the backyard, she greeted volunteers.
"I am so excited," Crayton said. "I am so appreciative of all these people, I say, my God."
Crayton said she thinks the improvements in her home will provide her a better lifestyle. She has trouble walking up and down her front porch stairs and stepping in and out of the shower.
Changes in the house will target these challenges. In addition to a ramp that Crayton said would be among the most important improvements, she is also getting a new and bigger shower.
She said she will no longer have to depend on so much help from her son, Tyrone, who shares the home with her.
The work includes renovating her front porch and installing a sidewalk. Crayton enjoys sitting on the porch with one of her neighbors.
Fairview Road Church of Christ has been planning the "Extreme Home Makeover Fairview Road Edition" for the past five years.
"Jesus taught that we are to love God and love others. This is one way to love others," said the Rev. Brian Hajicek, the church's minister. "She is a person that is in need, and at the same time, has given so much to the community over the years."
Crayton's home was chosen at the suggestion of others, Hajicek said.
"We prayed a lot about it and asked God to show us where we should do our next project," Hajicek said. "Her name kept coming up not only within the congregation but within the community as well."
Hajicek said he has seen an unbelievable response. Members of the congregation, community and private businesses, such as contractors, have donated time, materials and money.
The financial goals have not been reached due to the amount of changes that the house needs. The roof will be replaced, the floor will be reinstalled and a new heating and air system will be installed. The house will also get new furniture.
The church's initial funding goal for the project was $9,240. It now ranges from $15,000 to $20,000. People who wish to make donations may contact the church at 445-2213.
After each four-hour shift, volunteers gathered under tents to share a meal. As the team gathered around the chips, strawberries and burgers, Hajicek grabbed a microphone and thanked everyone for their help.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Crayton said in the background.
The team expects to finish the project by Saturday. At noon, the church plans to host a barbecue to celebrate and hand Crayton the keys to her house.
Crayton has not gone inside the house to see what progress has been made so far.
"I think she decided she wants to be surprised at the end," Hajicek said. "She’s said, I only want to cry once."
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