Jean Belmont had wanted to live off the grid.
Belmont, a retired second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, purchased a prefabricated building with plans to turn it into a tiny home. She also purchased the materials to connect the building to solar power and was trying to work on the home in-between traveling to Massachusetts to help care for her ailing mother, who has since died.
But while she was out of town, someone stole the solar power materials, she said.
During February’s winter storm, she stayed warm cutting wood to use in an old leaky wood-burning stove, she said. She had no electricity to her home, so she used a kerosene lamp for light.
She had no driveway up to her house, so she had to park far away and walk — a distance that turned out to be about 1,200 feet.
“I wanted to live off the grid, but surviving every day isn’t a life,” she said of the effort involved in living that way.
Belmont, who lives near Gilmer, turned to Northeast Texas Habitat for Humanity for help. That organization, in turn worked with other groups to finish Belmont’s home.
LaJuan Gordon, CEO of Northeast Texas Habitat for Humanity, described the partnership that finished Belmont’s home during a luncheon this past week at the East Texas Builders Association in Longview. In addition to the Habitat’s program to help build homes for low-income people, Habitat also has a critical repair program. Established in 2014, it helps make repairs for people whose homes have fallen into significant disrepair because the homeowner was aging, has physical ailments or experienced job loss.
“These people were living in dire circumstances that not only threatened their health, but their safety inside their home,” she said.
In 2015, the program expanded to provide a veterans home repair program. Gordon teared up as she talked about the program to the builders.
“As a former military spouse that understands the sacrifices that both your military and their families make, it was really important to me, so this was the most important program I had ever founded,” she said.
The critical repair program has repaired more than 800 homes in Gregg, Upshur and Rusk counties since it was founded, and the veterans program has helped 150 veterans. The veterans program started with about $4,000 to $5,000 to make home repairs. Today, that amount is up to $20,000.
“Normally that will get us where we need to be,” she said, but that was not the case with Belmont’s home.
“I showed up here today because the people in this room showed up in a really big way a few weeks ago,” Gordon said.
She described how Belmont approached Habitat asking for “a little help with my ceiling and my floor, and if it’s possible, could you help repair the walls of my home.”
When Habitat’s construction manager, Nico Fourie, who also owns HFH Construction, visited her home, staff members realized “very quickly that Jean needed an entire home” and that Habitat’s usual budget for repairs wouldn’t cover the project, Gordon said.
“We cannot walk away. We refuse to walk away,” she said of their reaction to the size of the project, but they knew they would need help.
Fourie approached the builders association board.
“You showed up, and you showed up big. You said we can make this happen,” Gordon said.
Association members provided $50,000 worth of services and materials toward the project.
The project included getting electricity to the property, as well as providing water, sewer and septic service, she continued. First, though, there had to be access to the property itself.
KK Mobbs Construction built what Gordon described as a 1,200-foot road into the property.
“Jean was there every single day, lending a hand and feeding the volunteers until we were done,” Fourie said in a statement
While Habitat was on site working, it also learned the Belmont’s neighbor, who also is a veteran, needed sewer services. The organization installed a septic system for him.
“This is an extraordinary situation, where faced with needs that far exceeded the repair definition, we were able to assemble a network of partners to provide two safer, healthier homes,” Gordon said in a statement. “The unmatched generosity of our community of partners has transformed the lives of two military veterans this spring.”
Businesses that donated supplies and labor were Bartoo Construction, Cassidy Jones Lumber, FMC Construction, JMH Electric, Kelly Moore Paint, Robin Lyles, MAC transportation, McCoy’s Building Supply, Moreland Propane, Phillips Flooring Center, Lowe’s, Sanchez Veliz Services, Upshur Rural Electric Co-op and The Habitat “Wednesday Crew.”
The builders association donated $13,000 it raised in its 50 Guns in 50 Minutes event and helped Habitat connect with the nonprofit organization Operation FINALLY HOME. Operation FINALLY HOME provided a $15,000 grant for anything the project needed from Lowe’s. Habitat provided $20,000 and oversaw the project.
Belmont addressed the builders association Tuesday as well, saying that she was a “peace-time, part-time” officer.
“I don’t feel as if I gave enough of myself to deserve all of this,” she said.
She thanked the people gathered in the room Tuesday, saying her house is what she dreamed of.
“I wanted to live in a barn. I wanted to live in a log house,” and the inside of her home looks like a cabin and the outside looks like a shed — her “she shed.”
“You nailed it,” Belmont said.