Steps2Hope, a new Chattanooga-based nonprofit, has been constructing a home since June 27 for Army Spec. Andrew Smith and his wife, Tori, after Andrew was wounded in Afghanistan.
Though workers had to trudge their way through red clay mud while keeping an eye on the clouds promising rain from above, they were quick to tell people why they were there as new volunteers made their way onto the “Camp Hope” construction site.
“Welcome to Camp Hope,” volunteers said repeatedly one day earlier this week. “We’re building a house today.”
Steps2Hope was founded by Mark and Annie Wilson, who said they were inspired by the support their family received after their son, David, was injured in a 2008 tornado that hit while he was away studying at Union University.
David had to go through months of recovery after he was buried in the rubble of a dormitory building and had to endure multiple surgeries to prevent his legs from being amputated. This week, David was able to walk around the job site and help build a home for a man who did have the experience of losing his legs.
After he and his wife both graduated from Lee University in 2009, Andrew joined the Army. On his very first patrol in Afghanistan in March of last year, he was wounded by an improvised explosive device. As a result, he suffered serious abdominal injuries and lost both of his legs.
He eventually found himself recovering at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. That was where he and Tori learned they would be receiving a new house. In August, the Wilsons visited them and said they wanted to present the couple with an idea. That idea was Steps2Hope, and the Smiths had the opportunity to be the first house recipients. After lots of time spent planning, construction began Wednesday with the goal of completing the new house within a week.
“We’re just very excited for Thursday,” Andrew said earlier this week, adding that he and his wife were both feeling “disbelief and excitement” as they waited to see their completed house.
The couple were able to see the beginning stages of the house, but they have not been allowed to see the site since Sunday in order to keep some parts a surprise. Meanwhile, they helped build a red barn on their new property and greeted those who came to help.
Tori said she was especially grateful for Steps2Hope, because it gave them a place to call home again. Both originally from Ooltewah, the couple has spent much of their time in Washington and have not as of late had a place to call their own.
Sitting under the shade of a “Camp Hope” tent, she paused to rephrase what she had just said. No, she was not just “grateful” for the support being given to her and Andrew; she said she was “blessed” because their need for a new house was being met.
“The Lord has never left Andrew or myself,” Tori said. “We feel so blessed. Hopefully someday we can go on to bless others.”
Annie said those who run Steps2Hope have said that they want to help those who have been through experiences like her son’s. The organization’s goal is to build houses for any individuals who have become disabled due to a traumatic experience — not just military veterans. The houses will be designed to meet whatever physical needs the residents have. The “Team Andrew” house has been built with enough room for a wheelchair if Andrew decides to use one. Earlier this week, he greeted workers at “Camp Hope” while walking around on prosthetic legs.
Plans are already being made for Steps2Hope’s next construction project. “Team Austin” volunteers will help the family of a 15-year-old North Georgia boy who became paralyzed after breaking his neck in a swimming pool accident.
But, until the Smiths receive the keys to their house and the “Camp Hope” construction site gets deconstructed, the focus remains there.
Volunteers came from throughout the Chattanooga area — including Cleveland — to work in shifts 24 hours a day since last week. All the materials volunteers have used to construct the house have been donated. In addition, companies have also sponsored build-related services like serving the four meals offered to workers at 6 a.m., 1 p.m., 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., from one of many tents dotting the landscape around the construction site.
“It’s just exciting to see the community come together for this,” Annie said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Though this week’s rain has impacted the project’s schedule, volunteers have continued working the entire time, she said. Changes like doing the landscaping earlier than planned have helped keep the project on track as Steps2Hope endeavored to complete the build in just a week. The result was that a brand new house quickly appeared in the middle of a wooded lot in Apison.
For more information about the organization, visit Steps2Hope online at www.steps2hope.com.