Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina in a neighborhood called Nicholtown, Rhonda Young lived in a house built from her father’s own two hands. Her happy childhood was full of outdoor activities from riding bikes to catching tadpoles and spending time with family and friends. When she wasn’t busy playing, she would ask to help her father work on houses. She may not have known it as a young girl, but her family holds a beautiful rich history that deserves to be celebrated.
Rhonda’s family was the second family to live in the Nicholtown neighborhood. Her grandfather, Sumler Hall, acquired pieces of the land, while her father helped with building. When meeting with Rhonda, she proudly pointed out that the street adjacent to her home was named Sumler after her grandfather.
Years later, Rhonda is a shining hero in the Nicholtown community. She is an active member in her church, has served as a youth mentor for the Nicholtown Bike Club, and she has engaged with Sustaining Way to serve the Nicholtown community. Her journey with Sustaining Way began in late 2012 after Rhonda heard of the organization through her church, Nicholtown Missionary Baptist Church.
During this time, Rhonda was living in her childhood home in Nicholtown, an inheritance that occurred shortly after her father’s passing. The home was not physically stable and she did not have the financial means to fix it on her own. Sadly, the home had deteriorated so much that it was in danger of being torn down by the city for being unsafe. Almost entirely exposed to the outside elements, Rhonda had one safe corner in the living room where she could stay dry. In every room, Rhonda could look up and see the sky. She had no heat or running water, and although she had electricity, it was very dangerous because of her exposure to rain and storms.
Rhonda’s home from the outside prior to repairs
Inside Rhonda’s kitchen with gaping holes along the roof
“When it rained, it was as if the walls were crying. I used to call it my camphouse because I could look up and see the sky through the ceiling.”
In spite of her challenging living situation, Rhonda found solace in helping others. Every time she worked on site as a volunteer or an apprentice for Annie’s House by Sustaining Way, she was able to go outside of herself and her problems. Helping others helped her begin to heal herself.
“Helping Sustaining Way got me outside of myself. I got enjoyment out of helping other people, which helped to heal me and my bad feelings about how things were going in my life.”
Sustaining Way and local churches in Nicholtown and First Baptist Greenville began to connect. Rhonda became a vital link between her community and what was being cultivated at Sustaining Way. A wonderful relationship began.
“We all serve one God. So why can’t we come together and have one purpose of what we’re gonna do for the neighborhood?”
Despite her struggles, Rhonda was involved in her community and striving to do something genuinely good. Then, one interaction changed the course of Rhonda’s future. Rick Joye, the founder of Sustaining Way, had lunch with Pastor Blue of Nicholtown Missionary Baptist Church where Rhonda attended. Pastor Blue mentioned the conditions in which Rhonda was living to Rick Joye, who immediately reached out to his community coordinator, Ricky. Ricky asked to take a look at Rhonda’s home to document what she was going through. Rhonda felt vulnerable with unveiling her home and struggled not to get her hopes up, but she continued to be brave. Rhonda had spent hours and hours working at Annie’s House without complaining or mentioning her living conditions. Sustaining Way was thankful to have the opportunity to help Rhonda and quickly began pulling together partners to support their friend in need.
Shortly after, Sustaining Way was able to engage with Advent United Methodist Church who restored two-thirds of Rhonda’s roof. Sustaining Way also coordinated with First Baptist Greenville who brought together a volunteer group to finish the roof and other needed repairs to the home.
“I never will forget. It was the week of Christmas. They employed some people who were gonna get my roof on. I didn’t get my hopes up — it was still unbelievable to me. But when they came out, they came out! I’m talking about people coming from Kentucky, Virginia, it was massive. I’m talking about cars around my whole block. I’m telling you, it looked like an event!”
Rhonda standing in her kitchen, one of her favorite parts of her home after many repairs and new roofing
Sustaining Way and their partners not only restored Rhonda’s childhood home to a livable condition, but also helped her find work when she didn’t have a reliable means of transportation. Rhonda’s journey rebuilt the home her father built and helped her to identify what was truly important to her. Rhonda says that learning what sustainability means starts with yourself; a mindset that carries forward when you begin to help others.
“Sustainability is a mindset. You’ve got to want to be sustainable. It’s a work in progress in many areas. Not just to have a structure for a home. But doing what it takes to sustain yourself and your life. I learned to take care of Rhonda. I had to start with myself – that’s as grassroots as it gets. I started thinking about me and my connection to the world.”
Rhonda learned to stay positive and accept help during her journey with Sustaining Way, and she learned what it meant to help others in her community. Rhonda continues to be an asset to Sustaining Way, and Sustaining Way still supports her as her personal journey continues.
-Story captured by Kali Llano