[Photo: Karen McLean celebrates getting the keys to her new home from contractor Eric Pender of Shepherd Response.]
By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Karen McLean’s home on Cumberland Avenue was so badly damaged by Hurricane Matthew that come winter time, she had to put flannel sheets and thick plastic on the cinder block walls to keep out the cold and damp.
“When the storm came through it lifted a lot of the shingles, which broke the roofing, which left a gaping hole in my kitchen. The kitchen had a hole in it, the flooring in the kitchen was weakened very bad as well as the bathroom floors were damaged with the water damage,” she said.
She applied for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but didn’t receive any help. McLean lived in the unsuitable housing for years, suffering from medical problems related to her living conditions, until finally the ReBuild N.C. program offered a ray of hope.
McLean moved into extended stay housing in 2021. In September of this year, the remains of her old house finally came down. Last Friday morning, McLean got the keys to her newly rebuilt home.
McLean learned about the ReBuild N.C. program through an unexpected encounter.
“A young man was coming out of the public library, that’s how I found out. I had seen the sign out there, but I never did think of it. He said, you’ve got storm damage to your house, so I went and applied,” McLean said.
After a long process that was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, McLean was finally awarded help from ReBuild N.C. The first contractor turned her down, making a years-long wait for safe housing drag on even longer. But the second, Shepherd Response of Raleigh, finally got things moving.
“As they say in the military, boots and running, and they did,” McLean said.
It only took about two months from teardown to the final cleaning and inspection of McLean’s newly built home. The day after everything was complete, she had the keys in her hand at a special presentation ceremony attended by local elected officials.
Commissioner James Leach said he had grown up with McLean and was glad to see the program help her with her home.
“This is a great day for Hoke County to see this happen,” he said, noting the county also works with several grant programs to help repair homes. “There are many houses that you see us working on with other programs, trying to get that work, trying to get them finished. We want our citizens to have the best, they deserve it.”
Raeford Mayor John K. McNeill got to talk with McLean about the project and was glad to see her have new housing.
“She was like a kid explaining to me what she got for Christmas,” he said. The home itself was “like one of these before and afters, you don’t know if you want to believe it or not. It looks great,” the mayor said.
There are others in Raeford that need renovation, and the city is working with grant money to try and help homeowners in the Robbin Heights community who are facing similar issues, McNeill said.
After the presentation, McLean got to give visitors a tour. It was a little too close to Thanksgiving for her to be completely moved in for that holiday, but the next one will be McLean’s first in her new home.
“For Christmas I will definitely be in here living and cooking,” she said.
“A brand-new start, a new lease on life. Just to say God done it, and the same as He did it for me, He’ll do it for others that are out there waiting on their house to be built.”
Thanks to her new home, she feels safer should another hurricane threaten to impact Hoke County in the future.
“The way they built it with the stilts and all that stuff that’s in it on each corner that I saw how they were building it, yes ma’am I see it safer,” McLean said. “And the hip roof, where before my roof wasn’t a hip roof.”
Contractor Eric Pender of Shepherd Response, the company that built McLean’s new home, said he enjoys getting to work on rebuilding homes that were damaged in storms.
“It’s probably one of the most rewarding jobs that I’ve had. History will speak of these historic hurricanes, Florence and Matthew, and I’ll be able to tell my children and my grandchildren that I helped those folks out that were in need,” Pender said.
Shepherd Response is owned by Kyle Aulet and Christian Baumgardner, and specializes in working on construction and replacement projects like this one.
The company is also currently working on another hurricane-damaged home in Five Points. If the damage is 60 percent or more of the house’s value, the program will take the house down and rebuild. If it’s less than that, the program can offer funds for rehabbing the house.
Anyone with hurricane-related damage interested in the N.C. Rebuild program, can learn more at https://www.rebuild.nc.gov.