STRAITS — After four moves and being homeless twice since losing their house to Hurricane Florence in September 2018, Robert and Dena Lewis, along with their four children, finally have a new home.
Thanks to the help of multiple nonprofits, including Carteret Long Term Recovery Alliance, the family just moved into a new, four-bedroom doublewide mobile home donated by Samaritan’s Purse, a ministry that provides disaster relief and housing across the nation.
It’s been a long road for the family, which faced numerous challenges since fallen trees destroyed their mobile home during the Category 1 hurricane that devastated Carteret County, including being homeless and a son needing a kidney transplant.
It’s also been a long haul for CLTRA Disaster Recovery Director the Rev. Robbie Phillips, who was determined to see the family get a home.
“So many times I had no idea the way forward with this project,” Rev. Phillips said during a dedication celebration for the home Saturday. “There have been so many churches and organizations who helped make this possible that it would be impossible to name them all. Most of all, we give God all the glory for making this happen.”
The couple thanked all those who helped their family get into their new house on Sweeten Ridge Lane in Straits.
“I am just so very grateful,” Ms. Lewis said.
“The support has been so phenomenal from so many people,” Mr. Lewis added.
Rev. Phillips said there are still more than 400 county families with homes damaged by Hurricane Florence waiting for help.
“We have other families in a similar situation to the Lewises,” she said. “We can’t forget them.”
Rev. Phillips said she was first made aware of the Lewis family by Tabbie Nance with the Carteret County Public School Foundation, which has assisted many public school families hit by Hurricane Florence. Some of the Lewis children attend East Carteret High School.
Of particular concern was the condition of one son, David, who was waiting for a second kidney transplant when they lost their home. The family moved in with relatives while they sought help.
“He was in kidney failure from the first transplant when this family was referred to us via the Carteret County School Foundation,” Rev. Phillips said.
CLTRA connected the family with the Back at Home program through Family Promise of Carteret, a nonprofit that provides housing to homeless families with the support of area churches. Once they received housing, Rev. Phillips went to work. After consulting with several disaster relief agencies, it was determined the home needed to be tore down.
“There were numerous financial challenges,” Rev. Phillips said.
Ms. Lewis couldn’t work because she had to be with her son, who was on call for a second kidney transplant. With only Mr. Lewis’ income, the family was not a good fit for a Small Business Administration loan. Additionally, the family was in loan default due to the damaged home and was behind in paying county taxes.
After consulting with Samaritan’s Purse, Rev. Phillips decided to help the family with some of the financial obstacles so they could qualify for a new mobile home.
During that time, David’s condition stabilized, so Ms. Lewis was able to start a job with Head Start. CLTRA worked with the county tax office to help the family set up a payment plan for back taxes. The group got Legal Aid of North Carolina involved to work out the loan default situation.
With all that in place, the Lewis family now qualified for a doublewide through Samaritan’s Purse. Just when everything seemed to be falling in place, more bad news hit.
Ms. Lewis’ mother died, and a month later Mr. Lewis’ mother died. In addition, the homeowners of the place where they were living, via Back at Home, did not renew their lease and the family was once again homeless.
“Finding affordable housing in this county has proven to be very difficult for our survivors,” Rev. Phillips said. “We got The Salvation Army involved for a hotel stay for this family while we continued to search for another rental. We had several churches involved in the search and finally a home in Smyrna came available. We again partnered with Family Promise and Catholic Charities for deposits to move this family once again.”
Once settled in their new temporary home, David was able to get his second kidney transplant in August and is doing well.
The family was finally able to move into their new mobile home, paid in full, Feb. 23. Warriors for Recovery, another county nonprofit that has assisted families burdened by Hurricane Florence, helped with furniture.
Rev. Phillips praised the family for their perseverance and thanked those who assisted with the effort.
“We are proud of this family and proud of this project,” she said. “We are grateful for all our partners.”
Rev. Phillips said donations and volunteers are needed to continue to assist the many families still needing help. To donate, checks can be mailed to CLTRA, P.O. Box 543, Morehead City, NC 28557. Donations can also be made on the CLTRA website, carteretltra.org. Volunteers can also sign up on the website. For more information, call 252-723-7274.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.