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New Home Brings Thanksgiving

BUCKINGHAM – With a smile that says it all, Ray Sudesberry is a man whose dream has come true.

“All my life I've wanted a new home,” shared Sudesberry on the day friends gathered to celebrate as he cut the ribbon on his new house and accepted a huge cardboard key, which he jokingly said looked like it could be used as a saw.

And, about that dream house, unlike his former residence, this home has indoor plumbing.

Yes, in this day of iPhones and Facebook, there are people right here in this rural community and others like it, who do not have indoor plumbing.

Although that is a fact that many cannot fathom, the folks at Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Incorporated know all too well that it is indeed a reality.

Southeast RCAP is the non-profit organization that provided the where-with-all for Sudesberry to realize his dream of owning a new home.

Its primary mission is to help small rural towns and communities needing aid in upgrading their water and wastewater systems. Additionally, funding is made available to low-income individuals and communities in the form of grants and low-interest loans in order to rehabilitate housing and build water and wastewater infrastructure.

Sudesberry qualified for Southeast RCAP's Indoor Plumbing and Rehabilitation Program, a state-funded program open to rural residents without complete indoor plumbing.

When the home proves too decrepit for rehabilitation to meet HUD Section 8 housing standards, like in this case, a new home is constructed.

However, Sudesberry's dream home is more than the result of one organization. It is a culmination of effort from friends who embraced a man known for his great smile and thankful spirit.

Make New Friends but Keep the Old

Those friends include longtime acquaintances, such as people he worked with during his 35 years at Kyanite Mining Corporation and its pallet plant Buffalo Wood Products; and his friends at Saint Andrews Church and Pastor Terry Tolliver.

Additionally, they include newer friends like Randy Phillips, rural housing specialist, and Teresa Volk, indoor plumbing and rehabilitation program coordinator, with Southeast RCAP.

However, one friend, Vail Dixon, who met Sudesberry in 2005 when she began working at Blue Rock Resources, a subsidiary of Kyanite Mining, set the wheels in motion to turn that dream into a reality.

“Ray was always very pleasant and smiling,” shared Dixon. “Then we started eating lunch together. I'd bring salads and stuff and we'd talk.”

Remembering a stressful time when she served as president of Blue Rock, Dixon shared, “Ray would look at me and say, 'Smile.'” In turn, he would offer one of his large and infectious smiles. “Then he would say, 'Don't worry.'”

She added, “He was always so positive and I'd tell him he was my angel. I think he has been a spiritual teacher for everyone around him.”

After Sudesberry retired, he would often stop by the office and the two friends would enjoy one of those salad and talk lunches. “Ray would always make me laugh,” she said.

However, several years passed and Sudesberry, who had suffered a stroke, began experiencing increased medical problems. Likewise, his only son Donald was struggling with diabetes.

Last fall, after learning that Donald had died of complications from diabetes at the age of 38, Dixon decided to take Sudesberry dinner.

That visit brought her to a crossroads of realization that he was living in an environment that was unhealthy for someone in an already debilitated physical state.

When she entered the residence, she found out that the man who cheered her up and made her smile was living in a house in serious disrepair, a house that did not have any indoor plumbing.

“It was pretty hopeless,” shared Dixon. “I remember going home and praying and thinking how can I let my friend live that way.”

She offered, “Externally-he was happy and I realized it wasn't an emergency situation but I needed to do whatever I could do to help him, especially knowing that Donald, who did a lot for him, had passed.”

She made sure Sudesberry had wood for heating; and she knew his church family at St. Andrews Church was assisting with food and groceries.

However, Dixon realized that cooking was not really an option for Sudesberry. He only had a woodstove and without indoor plumbing, the chore of cleanup was more than he could handle due to his physical limitations.

She began working with Sudesberry to update his financial paperwork with Social Security.

“I was trying to help him make a budget,” said Dixon, noting that the financial situation seemed to grow bleaker without Donald's income. “I was overwhelmed as to how I could help him,” she said.

During one of her visits, Sudesberry brought out an application that Donald had started filling-out. It was for assistance through Southeast RCAP.

Prior to his death, Donald had learned of its plumbing and rehabilitation program from a local contractor and had begun the application process.

“So then I contacted Teresa Volk.” That's when Dixon found out that Southeast RCAP would be able to help Sudesberry, not only with a new home but also with temporary relocation assistance.

“I thought it all sounded too good to be true,” she said. “And I thought it would take forever if it was true.”

She remembers a day in January when she was driving home from Virginia Beach where she was working on company databases. Dixon said she became overwhelmed with a sense that things were going to work out for her friend.

When she got back to Buckingham, she introduced Sudesberry to Paula Fellows, a wellness coach, who began helping him with his nutritional needs and an exercise program.

“So basically, since January, Paula has been working with Ray at least 20 to 40 hours a week.”

According to Dixon, Fellows was the one to find temporary living quarters for Ray, coordinate assistance through social services, work with his doctors, and complete tons of paperwork.

Dixon, noting that although she initially tried to do all the work herself, shared that within the first two months she realized it was too overwhelming.

“It was as if God interjected this person,” she stated.

“Ray has a lot of friends but Paula has been able to spend the time with him and to support him emotionally as well,” said Dixon. “Ray's whole life has changed.”

She offered, “Today is the result of not just one person but a lot of people. To see all of this come to fruition helps increase my faith.”

She continued, “The vision that I had in January, I had no idea how it would happen but I had the conviction that I couldn't stand to let someone that angelic live that way.”

Noting the pain caused by Sudesberry's health-related issues, the long-term effects of his stroke, and the loss of his son, Dixon stated, “I saw him grieve for his son but he never despaired.”

She offered, “He worked for over 35 years and never asked for help but this shows that God will provide.”

<!– 1upcrlf2 –>Dixon shared, “Seeing the community of people come together has strengthened my faith. And, seeing that some of the things that the government is doing are actually working has also helped my inner faith.”

She added that the Farmville Area Habitat for Humanity, which she contacted early on to see if Ray would be eligible for its program, was a great resource.

Although Habitat wasn't the answer in Ray's case, the staff provided information about area service agencies and other pertinent information that Dixon said proved extremely beneficial.

She shared that Habitat directed them to Malcolm Booker, eyeglass chair for the Buckingham Lions Club, to get Sudesberry a pair of new eyeglasses.

In turn, Booker, who is Clerk of the Buckingham Circuit Court, helped when they needed a copy of Ray's property plat and proved to be a valuable resource for several legal issues they encountered.

Dixon and Fellows each credit the other for most of the effort in helping Sudesberry. And, both credit God.

Fellows offered, “It's all God working through people. It has just been amazing.” She continued, “It's been a manifestation of tangibility in Mr. Sudesberry's wellbeing.”

Standing in the center of the new home, Fellows shared, “It is an absolute miracle-and it was because a community pulled together. Everything just literally fell into place.”

Looking around, Fellows offered, “I am overwhelmed. Ray has taught us that if you believe and trust in the Lord, anything is possible. And, now we've seen that.”

Ray's Newest Friends

Along with Phillips and Volk, two other employees from the Southeast RCAP, Beth Pusha, director of loan fund and economic development, and Inez Gray, individual project coordinator, were on hand for the celebration.

They were combining the trip to celebrate Ray's new home with required visits to several other homeowners in the area.

“We follow up with them every 90-days for the first year,” said Pusha, noting that after the first year, those follow-ups move to an annual basis for up to ten years.

She explained, “As part of the program, we provide housing counseling services to the homeowners,” she explained. Those services, said Pusha, include budgeting, financial planning, and devising a spending plan to accommodate increases in utilities that the new homeowner might realize. “We also follow up by identifying other resources for assistance in their area,” she shared.

“Included in those 90-day visits, we provide home maintenance education,” said Pusha. “And, we also provide them with a home maintenance calendar, with a picture of their home on it.” She added, “That was Randy's idea.”

The camaraderie between the Southeast RCAP employees and Sudesberry was as if they had been friends for years.

During an earlier interview with Phillips, he shared, “This is not a numbers game. It is very personal.”

Although Phillips sounded sincere on the phone, seeing him and the other employees with Ray rubber-stamped that PERSONAL.

“We've been crying all morning,” shared Pusha. “The bond that's built is just priceless.” She added, “And over the months we work with them, we usually see an improvement in their health and their self-esteem.”

Phillips had shared similar sentiments during that phone conversation. “We don't just hand them a key to the house,” he stated. “It is amazing when I go back and touch base with them and see how they have changed. Their mental and physical wellbeing usually improves from having a quality environment.”

Phillips stressed that an important part of their work involves connecting with other agencies that will help the new homeowner, such as social services.

He added that Southeast RCAP, under the guidance of its director Hope Cupit, feels it is important to build relationships within the community and strives to use local contractors and businesses.

While guests toured the house, Volk, who worked with Sudesberry from the onset of the project, talked with Fellows about the mortgage and insurance payments.

She explained that if at any point, Sudesberry's financial status changed or his medical expenses increased, Fellows needed to call them.

“We can adjust the ability to pay at any point in time,” she shared. “Pointing to the figures, Volk offered, “This is based on what we did a year ago. It can always change because this is never meant to burden him or hurt him.” She added, “We want to do whatever we can so he can keep this house.”

Fellows looked at the Southeast RCAP employees and asked, “Who are you people? How did we get you?” She added, “We need this kind of hope.”

According to Volk, once they received Sudesberry's application, they began the qualification process.

Because the land required an alternative septic system, the qualifying process took a bit longer, she added. However, Volk explained that the alternative septic system used at Sudesberry's home appears to be a system that will work really well with Buckingham soils.

The alternative septic system involves a geotextile sand filter that pre-treats effluent with a two-stage process that increases the soil's acceptance rate.

After the septic system problem was solved, the process went very quick,” stated Volk.

Following a pre-bid meeting with contractors at the site, bids are submitted and go before the Southeast RCAP board, which in turn must approve the project and the contractor.

The package is then sent to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, who is the funder, explained Volk. “They either say yea or nay,” she added, noting there is usually a two-week turnaround if they approve the project.

“At that point it gets fun-you actually see things happen,” stated Volk. She said they aim for a 60-day completion to help lessen the burden on the homeowner as far as having to stay somewhere else during the construction.

“Mike Yoder built this house and he just rolled-he did a great job,” shared Volk. “And, he even made the cabinets.”

She shared that most of the contractors they work with will add special touches for the homeowners. “They all have what I call their signature, which makes it special for us because we are limited and have to stay very basic and within cost limits,” said Volk.

“It's not just a heart-thing for us and the recipient, every piece of this is heart,” offered Volk. “Like here, you know he didn't have to put his cabinets in here.” She added, “It is just so cool. It's good stuff.”

Volk said that over the last decade, Southeast RCAP has completed 31 houses in Buckingham through its indoor plumbing and rehabilitation program.

Gray interjected, “And we are the ones that go out and hunt for those who do not have indoor plumbing.” She added, “It is something that people don't want to talk about either. And then we have to fight tooth and nail for funding.”

Volk offered, “You ride by houses like Ray was living in and you just don't know.”

According to Volk, several projects slated for construction in Buckingham have been placed on hold because of the current uncertainty with the funding situation.

However, she encouraged people without indoor plumbing or those who know of someone in that situation to call her at (540)345-1184, extension 137; or visit www.sercap.org.

Ray of Hope

Everybody's helped,” said Ray Sudesberry. “The Man above, He does his part, you do your part.”

When asked what he thought about his new house and the indoor plumbing, Sudesberry's smile broadened and he stated, “I like it.” He shared that he really likes the walk-in shower.

As he talked about the home's accessibility and low maintenance, one of his guests offered, “It'll be good as you get older.”

His face brightened and he quipped, “But I'm getting younger.” He advised, “You shouldn't age, you should get younger.”

Expressing his gratitude to his friends, Sudesberry stated, “They've done so much.” As emotions rolled over him, he offered, “I really don't know what to say.”

He reiterated, “They have done so much. Everybody has been so good to me.” As the smile reappeared, he added, “I've got a lot of friends.”

Sudesberry added, “And they all came together to help me. Some people say that they don't need friends but you've got to have friends.”

He talked about how he treasures his friendship with Vail Dixon and how much she has helped him. Moreover, he expressed his gratitude to Kyanite Mining Corporation. “They were good to me,” he shared.

Trying to describe how he felt about the day and all the people who gathered to welcome him to his new home, Sudesberry summed it up in one word, “Happy.”

However, he really didn't need to say anything-that huge smile on his face said it all.