Donna Byers

For Ms. Donna Byers, 67, there is no greater comfort than coming home, especially when it’s the same doorstep you’ve been returning to all your life. 

Ms. Byers’ home was built by her grandmother, Mary Byers, in 1958, at a time when racially discriminatory housing practices, such as redlining, were especially pervasive. 

From age 3 to 17, Ms. Byers grew up in this house alongside four brothers and a sister. If you were a child living in Nicholtown in the 1960s, their home was the place to be if you enjoyed rousing games of basketball and backyard kickball, pastimes instituted by their sports-loving father. 

Since the home was built, it remained in her family for anyone who wanted to live in it. Though Ms. Byers moved away a couple of times, it wasn’t ever for long — even when her then-fiancé bought a well-appointed house in Williamston with an in-ground swimming pool. “I told him, ‘I don’t care how gorgeous this house is, I miss Nicholtown,’” she recounts with a laugh.  

She returned to Nicholtown for good in 1982, remaining an active member of the Nicholtown Neighborhood Association, a close partner of Sustaining Way. The historic neighborhood has seen many changes since Ms. Byers was a girl, and though she could’ve sold the family home, it’s a tangible reminder of the care behind her grandmother’s commitment to providing for her family.

“I’ve always said, ‘Thank God for grandmothers, aunties, and parents,’” Ms. Byers says. 

Even the homes built on a strongest foundation of love could use an update or two when they reach a certain age. When Ms. Byers learned of Sustaining Way’s Energy Home Visit Program, she was excited by the prospect of making her home more energy efficient. 

In spring 2022, a team of volunteers evaluated the entire perimeter of her home, fixing drafty doors and windows, inspecting electrical work, and changing out older lightbulbs for LED ones. On one visit, they noticed that the solar panels she had installed on her roof in 2018 were no longer functioning properly. To ensure that Ms. Byers could reap the benefit of electric bill savings, they recruited Greenville Tech and a local solar installer to help get the panels back in working order. 

As of September, she has been able to reduce her home’s energy consumption by 56 percent. While Ms. Byers knew that the improvements could increase her quality of life and reduce financial burden, she is struck by just how much that has been the case. 

“I am thankful to even know [about] Sustaining Way, to know what they are capable of doing and what they’ve done for me,” she says. “It isn’t like they came in here for one or two days, they spent time. They listened to what I said.” 

By maintaining and making improvements to her home, Ms. Byers is proud to be able to one day pass along the gift that her grandmother gave to her all those years ago.  

“All I know is that when my time is up, my daughter will have this house, whether she keeps it or sells it,” she says. “I’m leaving her something that’s paid for.”

As for now, Ms. Byers takes in the simple joys of homeownership. As winter nears, the worry over an uncomfortably chilly house eased, the comfort of home never more apparent. 

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