Mother’s Day was a family affair for Portia Smith. Her three young children were at home with her, as were her father and stepmother, aunts and friends.
The word “home” holds a special grace for Smith; this is her brand-new Habitat for Humanity house in Yanceyville to which she had devoted hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” in the hope of giving her young family a stable and secure place to live.
It was a long and painful journey for Smith.
A year ago, life was good. She had a demanding but fulfilling job at Person Memorial Hospital in Roxboro, as a nursing assistant. She and her three young children were looking forward to moving into a new home in Yanceyville. The Habitat home was one of 104 in the State Employees Credit Union Foundation’s Mountains-to-the-Sea Challenge to build a Habitat home in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The Foundation has put up $10 million for the program. Once the homeowner assumes a zero-percent loan from SECU, the money is returned to the Habitat affiliate so that another home can be built.
Last June, Portia’s move-in day was drawing nigh; the house was nearly complete.
Then, in a moment, her dream came undone.
On June 14, driving home from working on the house after a shift at the hospital, Smith dozed off and ran headlong into a tractor-trailer rig on N.C. 119.
“She was in intensive care at Duke for two to three weeks,” says Robin Wintringham, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Alamance County, “There were significant injuries, primarily on her left side. Both hips were broken, her left ankle was shattered, her left leg was broken. They moved her into step-down rehab unit at UNC.”
Now, on this Mother’s Day 2018, nearly a year after the accident, Wintringham was filled with optimism.
“We have awaited this day with bated breath and hope, and now this joyful day is finally here,” she told the crowd in the house. She gave credit to God.
“There is no other way this could have worked out.”
Everyone broke into cheers and applause. Smith wept.
“I thank God for blessing my family with this beautiful home,” Smith said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Thank you to my family and friends. Thank you to everyone who has come out on my special day.”
After the accident, Smith and her sons Ja’Quis, now 13, and DeKetren, 11, and her daughter A’Niya, 6, moved in with her father in Caswell County. She speaks eagerly, but still is in a wheelchair. There is hope that, with time and therapy, she could regain use of her legs. She gets some money through her employer’s health insurance, and will eventually get long-term disability pay.
One of the first things she said when she regained consciousness, Wintringham said, was, “I’ve got to tell Dad to call Habitat to tell them what happened. I don’t want to lose my house.”
“When I called her after the accident I anticipated sorrow, tears, and a righteous measure of anger,” Wintringham said. “Not at all. She was joyful. She said, ‘I’m glad to be alive.’
“On the jobsite she was driven, working every minute. No task was too challenging. She has a special relationship with our floor crew at Habitat ReStore in Mebane (where she earned some of her sweat equity hours). They offered as a group to finish her sweat equity hours for her.”
To make sure she doesn’t lose the house, Habitat of Alamance County and Habitat North Carolina worked on ways to help Portia and her children hold on to their dream.
“What is the right thing to do in this situation?” asks Wintringham. “Not just the legal thing, but what is the right thing to do by her, if you’re a Christian ministry?"
Greg Kirkpatrick, executive director of Habitat for Humanity North Carolina, agrees that timing was critical.
“She’s worked for it, she’s qualified (for home ownership under Habitat guidelines). This is an opportunity to make it happen. She needs it now more than ever."
It all worked; Smith will sign the closing papers on her new home May 17.
“Out of every situation, there is some good coming out of it,” said Pastor Clevie Brandon at the dedication. “We thank God for you and your children. And greater is coming. With all you have been through, you didn’t give up. You have shed tears and are happy. We are happy with you. We all are happy today.”