Thursday, May 24, 2012
It’s not often that small talk can change someone’s life, but that’s exactly what happened when Susan Bass met Joan Garnand last year.
A clerk at the Tags and Title office, Bass asked Garnand, who was there to renew her tags, whether or not she had been affected by the then recent tornadoes.
“She said she had had some problems with her water and had to turn it off, but she hadn’t been affected as much as other people,” Bass said, recalling the first time they met.
As part of protocol, Bass wrote down Garnand’s phone number for reference, and she also made a photo copy of the phone number. The copy remained in her purse for several days.
“Every time I opened my pocketbook, I saw that phone number and God just prompted me,” said Bass. “I wanted to help her fix her water.”
A member of Ooltewah’s Eastwood Church, Bass asked the congregation to help meet Garnand’s needs. But when they went to help, they realized she needed more help than they could give.
The lower floor of her Ooltewah home was completely uninhabitable. Before the April 2011 tornadoes it had been severely damaged by flooding and hail damage, leaving mildew, black mold and a large hole in the floor.
“She said a raccoon might come in at any time and that really freaked me out,” said Bass.
Garnand’s home had seen raccoons, snakes and other pests, but she had no means of making the repairs and then lost her job when she missed too much work because of an illness, she said.
“I had to abandon [the first floor] and move the things I could get upstairs,” said Garnand, who uses a walker and wheelchair to get around. “It was basically like camping.”
She had a microwave and small refrigerator upstairs, which is how she was living when Bass and Eastwood Church came to her assistance. After initially attempting to make repairs on the home on their own, the church members soon realized the house would probably need to be completely replaced.
In November 2011, church members joined forces with the Samaritan Center in a partnership that later came to include Southern Adventist University, Doug Walter of Apison Open House Volunteers, Christ United Methodist Church and Ooltewah Nursery in providing Garnand a new and safer home.
“We came in thinking would were going to fix the water, but how could we in good conscience leave her like this?” said Eastwood Church member Tom Craig. “We tore down the house the first of the year.”
Initially expecting the project to take four to six weeks, the group found a mobile home that could be refurbished and placed on Garnand’s property. But rain, the discovery of three wet-weather springs and the necessity of moving the house’s location to prevent it from future flooding meant the project actually took five and half months to complete. Of Eastwood’s approximate 100 members, Craig said at least half of them were involved in helping get Garnand into her new home.
She moved into her new home last week. It came complete with a front porch, wheelchair ramp and widened doors to make it more accessible.
“If the raccoons come to visit now, they’ll have to knock on the door,” said Garnand.
During an emotional entry and presentation of the new home, Garnand said she plans to host an open house for all the people and organizations that helped make her new home possible.
“There are no words good enough to say how much these people mean to me,” she said. “I don’t know how to thank everyone.”