Family struggles to rebuild lives (video)
Oct. 10, 2012 at 5:10 a.m.
Updated Oct. 11, 2012 at 5:11 a.m.
Sitting at a table outside after the heat fades with the afternoon, Kelvin Montgomery, 11, painstakingly writes out his spelling words.
He doesn't mind sitting outside to do his homework, he says, as long as it's not too hot.
"There just isn't room inside for the table," said Kelvin's grandma, Pamela Steward. "But I just tell the little ones we are having a picnic outside to make a game out of it, instead of it being like we have to."
Steward, guardian of Kelvin and his four brothers, ages 3-15, lost her home - and everything in it - to an accidental fire on Sept. 22.
The fire in the 1000 block of Pecan Street was deemed accidental by Fire Marshal Tom Legler, who said the cause was flammable or combustible gas or vapors being too close to the water heater.
After the fire, the family stayed in a hotel for three nights, provided by the American Red Cross. An additional night in the hotel was donated by a neighbor.
Now, the family of six lives in a temporary, two-bedroom apartment made available by Mid-Coast Family Services.
Steward's gaze can sweep over the cramped apartment in one glance - two of the boys sleep on the couch, two share a small room with twin beds and the youngest, 3, sleeps with Steward.
"I just want my home," said Steward, as she struggled to hold back tears. "I just want another home where these kids will feel comfortable and safe, and feel whole again."
Even though they still don't have a home to call their own, Steward said she has been amazed by the outpouring of community support.
"First and foremost, we have Jesus. We are all here and we are still standing," Steward said, grateful the family wasn't home when the fire started. "And by His grace, this is just a chapter of our life that we are going through and He (God) is going to see us through."
Teryl Taylor, a close family friend managing the donations, said he has received about 70 calls from people as far away as Port Lavaca and Goliad wanting to donate clothes and food.
An account set up for donations at TDECU already has $9,000, Steward said.
All of that money, Steward said, is going to building a new house on the lot she already owns on Pecan Street.
"They are eager to get back, and every chance I get, I will take them back to visit their friends ... they are like extended family," Steward said about her neighbors. "We will be back."
She estimates they will need $20,000 before they can start rebuilding. In the meantime, the family is looking for a larger home.
"We are trying to find her something better, because we know it is cramped here," Jeff Ralston, a caseworker for Mid-Coast, said. "But it has been a struggle to find her something, because the rent has jumped with the oil boom and she has a fixed budget."
Sean Shirey, a member of the Church at Spring Creek, has never met Steward or the children, but is having a fundraiser for them in November.
After reading about the fire in the Advocate on Sept. 23, Shirey, who was homeless for a few months when he lived with his dad, said he felt like he had to do something.
"With my past experience with being homeless and losing a home - it was hard, just trying to feed myself ... I don't want to leave anyone homeless. Everyone deserves a home," Shirey said.
His band, Shawn Guzman & Texas Soul, will perform at the church with all ticket proceeds benefiting the family. He hopes to raise $1,000.
Steward, who is recovering from a broken knee and is in remission from bone cancer, said the hardest part during the ordeal has been keeping the children upbeat.
"I'm trying to keep a smile on their face and keep them focused, letting them know this isn't the end, this a new beginning. Trying to let them know that things will get better. We will get a home," she said.
Steward said despite all of the donations, there are some things that can't be replaced, like the boys' football trophies and photos of her parents.
"It's never going to be same," Quentin Jordan, 15, said. "I'm used to coming home and reminiscing and looking at the pictures, like from when we were kids and stuff, and they are all gone. It is all gone."
Even the youngest, Kolson, 3, is sad his toys and his room "got fired. They all got fired."
Additionally, all of the boys were on asthma medication, which was lost in the fire. Steward is still trying to get that replaced, hoping none of them have an asthma attack.
Still, the most important thing, she said, is they all managed to stay together.
"Family is forever - that is the unity and that is our goal, to stay together," Steward said. "That is the way I raised them and that is the way they are going to be. I refuse to separate them. I tell them, if we have to sleep in the car, we are all going to be together. That is no option."