By Sarah Colson
In 2014, Steve and Colene Tredway began what would become a long, 18-month race toward adopting their two kids, Alexis (Lexi, 8) and Kadin (7). That journey led them to sacrifice all of their monetary funds to repair and renovate their single-wide mobile home, just to realize it wouldn’t be enough to ensure full custody.
Hearing of their situation, Appalachia Service Project (ASP) decided to get involved. On Nov. 17 of last year, Lexi and Kadin officially became part of the Tredway family. Now, hundreds of strangers from the community are sacrificing their time, energy and more to begin another race, this time a Race to Build at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“Steve randomly got a call from work,” Colene said of her husband, an honorably discharged National Guard veteran who works as a mechanic for the City of Elizabethton. “It was from ASP and they said, ‘We’re building y’all a house.’ And Steve’s like, ‘I think I misunderstood what you just told me.’ He said again, ‘We are building you a house.’ It’s very shocking for someone to just call and tell you they’re building you a house.”
Volunteers from ASP, Reinhart Food Service, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City churches Grandview Christian, Wesley United Methodist and Heritage Baptist, and Blountville United Methodist all came out to build the three-bedroom house in just one week.
Jeremy Hensley and Hunter Arnold are seniors in ETSU’s Construction Engineering Department who came out with a handful of colleagues Monday to help with painting. Arnold worked with ASP two summers ago and told the Construction Management Association, a group from the engineering department that looks for opportunities to “give back to the community,” about Race to Build.
“In the Construction Management Department, we learn a lot about managing projects and the office work,” Arnold said, “but whenever we actually get an opportunity to give back and work on for example, carpentry, like a trade we would have to manage in the field, it really helps us respect who we’re working with and gives us a perspective on how things really go together in the field in comparison to what we’re learning in the classroom.”
Hensley, who wants to do project management with his degree, graduated from Science Hill High School and said his experiences led him to want to give back.
“I’ve always enjoyed giving back,” he said. “I grew up in a decent house, it wasn’t much, but my parents are from Central Kentucky so I’ve seen a lot of poor housing and families who just don’t have the best going for them. So it’s nice to be able to help these people out and help them enjoy living and having a life.”
ASP President and CEO, Walter Crouch, said the idea to build a house in one week started last summer. He knew he wanted ASP volunteers to build a house in one week, and then thought it might be fun to tie in the idea of a BMS race week with the “race” to build a house. He had no idea back in those early stages of planning that it would go so fast. Friday, the first day of building, Crouch said, flew by.
“It was different even than Extreme Home Makeover where they do seven, 24-hour days,” he said. “We basically do four eight-hour days. That first day was almost like the day slowed down. We got more work done in eight hours than we were expecting to in 12 hours. By the end of the day it looked like a finished house. It was just amazing. That first day was the most productive day that I’ve ever been a part of. It was borderline miraculous.”
Colene said for her family, the new home is “a tremendous blessing.” And more than that, Colene added, it’s what’s helping them keep their two children out of foster care.
The Tredways were unable to have children of their own. So when Colene’s cousin called her to say that a family member’s kids were going into Department of Children Services’ (DCS) custody, she leapt into action.
“My dream was always having a kid of my own,” Colene said, “and that never happened. We had thought about fostering but I was afraid I would get too attached and it would just drive me crazy. When my cousin called me… I said, ‘Oh yes, definitely.’ I was so excited. It was my dream come true.”
Unfortunately, Colene said, the couple woke from that dream quite abruptly when DCS told them they were unable to release Alexis and Kadin to them until they had a separate bedroom for each child. Their mobile home was only a two-bedroom. Because of that, the kids stayed in foster care for a few months while the Tredways spent every penny they had constructing a new wall in between one of the bedrooms to create two smaller ones.
Once they thought they were in the clear, they learned they would also need to make repairs to the bathroom ceiling and to add a ceiling to their back porch because of the electricity that was used there.
“We ran out of funds after we built the room,” Colene said. “So DCS called someone they knew connected with ASP. ASP contacted us and said they wanted to help us get the rest of the material to help us get the kids. (ASP, headquartered in Johnson City, repairs many homes around Central Appalachia in addition to building some new ones.) So they got what we needed and everything. It was tremendous. It was a blessing. We were so excited because we were, for the first time, like, ‘This is going to happen.’”
A couple of months later, Lexi picked up an ASP application from school and gave it to her parents. Their roof was still leaking and they lacked the funds to fix that. The couple figured they might as well see if their friends at ASP could help with that as well. A couple months went by before they got that surprising call from ASP saying they would soon have a new house.
But then, another roadblock emerged. For legal reasons, the new home could not be built on their current home’s property. ASP told them they would have to purchase new land.
“There was no way we could provide the land,” Colene said. “So we said, ‘well, it ain’t gonna happen. We’re stuck where we’re at.’”
Fortunately, ASP stepped in once again and worked with Sullivan County to purchase a large enough plot to build the home. Originally, the house was to be built during the August 2015 races, but because of the land complications, it was moved to this week. ASP New Build Superintendent Tom Kendall said if this Race to Build were in fact a race, they would be carrying home a championship.
“We’ve never seen a build this fast before,” he said, “and seeing so many different groups of people like ETSU and Reinhart and then you have subcontractors and contractors who come out to help, just seeing all those people come together to make this happen this quickly has been really exciting.”
The Tredways, who have been married for 16 years, said that the blessing of a new home will go far beyond brick and mortar. For them, it will mean sleeping in the same bed for the first time in 10 years. Colene has COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), which means she has to sleep in an upright position. For the past decade, they have slept side by side in the living room in recliners.
“They (ASP) asked us to tell them one big dream item we wanted for our home, something we could never afford,” Colene said. “I told them an adjustable bed. They got a bed donated for us. We get to sleep in the same bed again. I can’t tell you how excited we are for that.”
Steve is a hard working husband and father, and Colene said it’s been a journey trying to explain to him the difference between a handout and a blessing.
“My husband has a hard time accepting it because he says he works for everything he’s got and he doesn’t want people to think it’s a handout,” Colene said through happy tears. “But it’s not a handout; it’s a blessing. We’ve been very blessed. That’s what happened. It’s unreal still. You know it’s happening and everything but you still can’t believe it’s happening to you.”
To learn more about ASP, visit ASPhome.org.