Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders compared all the hardships Kristie Smith and her two daughters have endured to being struck by lightning -- not once or twice, but three times.
First, in 2008 lymphoma claimed the life of Kristie's husband and the girls' father, Don. A year later, Kristie underwent surgery to have a brain lesion removed and doctors diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis. Then in December of 2010, Kristie received even more devastating medical news, when she was told her younger daughter, Katrena, had leukemia.
"How many times can lightning strike a family?" asked Sanders during a news conference held for the Smiths Thursday, May 3 at the Maywood Baptist Church in Independence.
He pointed out lightning was now striking for a fourth time -- "only this time in a good way" -- as he joined County Legislator James D. Tindall (2nd District), Maywood Pastor Bob Spradling and others in announcing that Kristie and Katrena would be doing something they hadn't been able to do in nearly two years. They would be going home.
Jackson County Constructing Futures made crucial repairs to the family's Independence house, located in the 1500 block of South McCoy Street. The remodeling project centered around making the home a safe place for Katrena, now 14 and in remission, to continue her recovery.
During her treatment, including a bone marrow transplant in March of 2011, the house fell into disrepair. The basement flooded. Mold set in.
"We lived in a hospital for basically a year," explained Kristie in a video shown at the news conference. "Meanwhile, the house just got worse. Nobody was living there."
Later as she toured her refurbished home, she added, "The doctors told us the mold would have killed [Katrena]."
Nearly hmeless following Katrena's release from Children's Mercy Hospital, she and her mother lived in a recreational vehicle parked in their driveway. Later, they moved into a relative's basement. As Tindall noted, the two were "near homeless" and faced a situation in which they might never be able to return to their home. (Kristie's other daughter is now an adult and attended the May 3 news conference with her husband.)
Kristie and Katrena's plight was brought to Jackson County's attention by Maywood Baptist Church and the Independence School District, through its 12 Blocks West initiative. The district's objective, through 12 Blocks West, is to partner with faith-based and civic organizations, as well as business and community leaders to "build a foundation for viable, self-sustaining, mixed-income neighborhoods through the exchange of resources and information."
Sanders considered remodeling the home a perfect project for Jackson County Constructing Futures. The Jackson County Housing Resources Commission (HRC) agreed, allotting about $35,000 for the repairs. Approximately $20,000 in materials was donated, and COMBAT provided $30,000 toward job training for the individuals who did the remodeling work.
Jackson County employees and members of the Maywood Baptist congregation, to which the Smiths belong, also volunteered to aid in making repairs on the house. Furthermore, the church raised $16,000 to help pay some of the family's medical bills.
"The [County Executive's] administration came to our commission and said there was a need in Independence -- a need to keep a family from becoming homeless," said Tindall, who chairs the HRC. "We responded to that need. But if it had not been for the administration, this would have never happened."
He asked that HRC members Annette Le Pique, Anne McGregor and David Odegard, who were in attendance, be given a round of applause.
Sanders thanked Independence Mayor Don Reimal, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp and County Drug Commissioners Tony Miller and Gene Morgan for supporting the project.
"Jackson County came to the rescue," Pastor Spradling said.
In keeping with Jackson County Constructing Future's mission, labor was provided by by Connections to Success (CtS), a partnering agency on the project. The non-profit organization works to give those who are unemployed, underemployed or were formerly incarcerated on-the-job training to the acquire the skills for a brighter future. Two of the ex-offenders who worked on the house noted the training they received will greatly improve their chances of securing long-term full-time employment.
"We want them to be productive members of our society," Sanders said. "Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to make sure we give them the job skills they need to be successful going forward. That is the long-term payback to our community, taking these individuals and assuring they don't re-enter the [criminal justice] system."
"This project fits that mission perfectly," stated Connections to Success Director Brad Lambert.
As for Kristie and Katrena Smith, their brighter future started with their return home. Katrena smiled as she said when she enrolls as a freshman at Truman High School for the 2012-13 school year "I'll know what address to put down."
Despite her ordeal, Katrena has, Sanders noted, maintained an A average.
Faith, according to Kristie, has sustained the family throughout the last four years of uncertainty. When accepting the key to her remodeled home, she said, "First of all, I want to thank God, just for everything that He does for me every day and for bringing all of you to me."