The following article was written by our own Joanne Camas, about Brenda and the work we did at her house this summer. So many hours of blood, sweat and tears were put into her house this summer by so many PVs.
Home is where the heart is. And Brenda Lester knows that more that most people: She promised her husband, B.O., that she’d rebuild their flooded home on the spot where he was born and they’d built their own house together 36 years ago.
“I’ve spent the better part of my life here,” she said, smiling through tears as she thought of her husband, who died in March from cancer.
The Lesters’ home was flooded twice, first on Mother’s Day in 2009, and then on June 13 this year. Last year the house was full of mud; this year it was sand.
Now Brenda is ready to move back home, into a refurbished trailer sitting high on blocks and completely decorated and fixed up by the PV Volunteers, a group that’s been helping out in Wyoming County for 12 years.
“I just sat down and cried,” Brenda explains, recalling hearing the news that the PV volunteers would help her. “I just can’t believe that people give of their time and their summer to help other people who need it.”
Brenda is looking forward to putting family pictures back on the walls and making it home. “The water was 42 inches high in our house,” she says. “I lost everything except a few pictures that were high on the wall, one bed, and my breakfast set.” Her family have made her copies of their photos, which will have pride of place in her new living room.
She has also decorated a bedroom bright pink for her granddaughters, and is delighted to have a place to invite them and room for them to stay.
When Brenda and B.O. were homeless after the flood, they had to sleep in their car for several nights even though he was very sick, and then moved around friends and neighbors. “No one ever turned us down,” she says, “but it was embarrassing.” Her husband also found it difficult not to help her out. “He had worked hard his whole life and always helped everyone out,” she says. “He would cry because I was doing all the work and he couldn’t help me.”
She has been living in a FEMA trailer up the road from her home for a year and a half now, and visits her house every day to encourage and thank the volunteers and watch their progress.
On a recent hot, humid afternoon she sat in the shade under her trees, looking at her house and the creek below. Although she smiles, her hands are kneading the bottle of water in her hand, and tears are never far away.
What has she missed most?
“I can’t wait to be in my own bedroom,” she says, with a big smile. “The first thing I’m going to do is take me a long sleep in my good bed!”
The next thing will be to bring back her dog, Brownie. “He’s been separated from me since last May, and I can’t wait to bring him home. I miss him and he misses me, and when I visit him he jumps up on my lap and nuzzles me like he’s saying “Where you been?’” she says, through tears.
The PV Program draws volunteers from around the country to work in Wyoming County every summer. This year volunteers helped Brenda Lester and other people whose homes were devastated by recent flooding, ran basketball and soccer camps for local youngsters, helped organize and distribute food at the Itmann Foodbank in Mullens, and built steps and fixed roofs for people who were unable to complete the work themselves.