published Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Extreme home makeover

RINGGOLD, Ga.—Without the hundreds of volunteers, the television coverage and a precocious child to think of, another extreme home makeover is quietly taking place just off Cherokee Valley Road.

The brick home, vacant for nearly three years after its occupant, Vern L. Caudill, was driven from the residence by a grease fire that roared out of control, is being renovated with the help of a team from Chattanooga's Silverdale Baptist Church.

"We just want to show him people care, that people love him," said church member Sherman Smith. "We want to show him the love of Christ."

The goal for the volunteers, he said, is for the home to be ready in about 60 days.

Although the fire may have driven Caudill from the three-bedroom house his parents built in 1959, it didn't drive him from the property. Since the blaze, he has lived in an 8-foot by 10-foot metal storage building at the rear of the property.

An admitted jack-of-all-trades who worked in heavy construction for employers such as TVA and Chattanooga Boiler & Tank before retiring, Caudill has rigged the building to be as comfortable as it can be.

A wood stove provides the building with heat, and a room air conditioner cools it. A mini-refrigerator allows for food storage, and a complex antenna outside the shed permits television reception. A wooden frame a few inches off the floor is a makeshift bed. The bathroom in the house, heavily damaged throughout by smoke and water, is still usable.

Caudill said he returned to live in the house with his parents about 1967. His father died first, and then his mother died about a year before the fire. He is not sure if she ever had insurance.

So, Caudill, who lives on Social Security, could do little work on the house before the Silverdale Baptist volunteers came along.

"I really appreciate it," he said of the help. "They seem to be good folk. I can't complain."

Smith, who said his eyes were opened to the plight of the poor on a short-term mission trip to Honduras in 2002, said the home makeover project grew out of a small group that met at his house.

His pastor, he said, had challenged the congregation several years ago to meet in working small groups on Sunday nights. Senior pastor Tony Walliser said the idea was that people would connect relationally, spiritually and participate in some type of service project. Too often, he said, church groups "become internal, want to take care of ourselves and never look outside the door."

Other Silverdale groups have done worthy weekend projects such as clean up the yards of inner-city residents and build handicap ramps, Walliser said.

Smith's group, he said, "started off with a single group going, 'Who can we minister to?' " and wound up "taking on a whole burned-out house. It's just amazing."

By the time the project is finished, Smith said, they will have re-roofed and re-floored the house. It will have new insulation, wiring, plumbing, dry wall, cabinets, appliances, doors and windows, perhaps $50,000 worth of renovations.

"We're even going to landscape it," he said. "It'll be nice."

To date, everything but the custom windows has been donated, Smith said. And the windows, he said, were purchased at cost.

"We wanted to be sure he was convinced we wanted to do it with no strings attached," he said.

Some 60 volunteers have spilled over from Smith's small group to the wider church to churches as far away as Chatsworth, Ga., to employees from his company, DreamTech Builders, he said.

"They're just people that love Jesus and want to bless [Caudill]," he said. "That's just a basic need of life he has."

Even Catoosa County has given its approval for the work, according to Smith. The body originally wanted to condemn the house, he said, but has relented since he remains living on the property.

"Everybody is glad to see it happening," he said.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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