Together again under one roof: Harbor Habitat holds key ceremony for family

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Thelma Smith, left, shares a moment with her granddaughter, Trisha Hudson, and great-granddaughter, Alexis Barnes, 11, during their Harbor Habitat for Humanity home dedication Saturday in Benton Township. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Thelma Smith looked on at her granddaughter lovingly as more people entered her new house Saturday.

More than two dozen people were welcomed to the Harbor Court residence to celebrate Smith’s new house through a key ceremony.

Smith has raised her 30-year-old, quadriplegic granddaughter Trisha Hudson as her own since she was 6. Then, she helped raise Hudson’s 11-year-old daughter, Alexis Barnes. Hudson and Barnes were there to also welcome newcomers.

The three lived together until Hudson had a massive stroke in 2007 when Barnes was almost 2 years old. Smith said the stroke left her granddaughter only able to move her eyes.

“I don’t know what to say other than, I’m so grateful,” Smith said. “You have no idea how great it is to have my family at home together. One of these days her body’s going to come back and she’s going to be walking. And I want everybody to see that. I didn’t bring her this far to leave her.”

Erin Hudson, executive director for Harbor Habitat for Humanity, said it was nice to see the three of them be in one home for Christmas. The family originally moved into the new home in August.

Workers started rehabilitating the Benton Township structure in September 2015.

Smith applied for a Harbor Habitat home so she could bring her granddaughter back from the nursing home. She said she was determined to get a better living situation for herself and her family.

According to Jessica-Rae McFall, family services manager at Harbor Habitat, when Smith first applied for a home she wasn’t approved.

“She wasn’t going to let that stop her,” McFall told everyone standing in Smith’s living room. “She applied again and knew she had what it took to be a homeowner. Thelma is especially amazing. Before she started her sweat equity, she tripped and fractured her wrist.”

At 70 years old, she completed the 300 hours of sweat equity with Harbor Habitat, where she helped build her home and took classes for homeownership and financial capability. All of this was done by Smith while she traveled to and from South Haven to care for her granddaughter and raise Barnes.

American Electric Power and Whirlpool Corp. representatives were on site Saturday.

The Habitat home was originally built in 2008, sponsored by AEP. The power company had workers come out and work alongside Harbor Habitat volunteers. Whirlpool donated not only the refrigerator and stove top, but a washer and dryer as well.

Smith said she was thankful for the appliances because she had been forced to walk up flights of stairs in their previous apartment to do laundry.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 18, 2016)

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