JARRELL — On the afternoon of July 12, 2013, Sherri Parsons was lying in bed recovering from illness when the telephone rang. It was her apartment manager calling to inform her the apartment complex had caught fire, and her apartment was among 16 that were affected.
A year later, Parsons is now busy twice a week building her new house through the local Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that builds homes for people in need worldwide.
Parsons, a single mother, works as a school nurse during the school year and a camp nurse in Indiana during the summer months. She and her son were away at camp when the fire occurred.
Not only has Parson’s received the assistance of Habitat, but she got even more help from a group of Fort Hood soldiers July 26, when members and supporters of the Women’s Mentorship Network spent the day volunteering to help build her house.
“Women’s Mentorship Network is a nonprofit organization founded in January of this year, so we’re still relatively new but growing,” said Maj. Heather Gunther, signal officer for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, and co-founder of the network. “We exist to create opportunities for women in the military to meet each other and create mentoring relationships.”
Amid the normal hustle and bustle of a construction site — the sounds of nail guns and electric shears and circular saws — soldiers were making connections not just with each other, but with the local community.
“It’s really cool, because you have a diverse group that goes out and gets to meet people from the local area for a good cause, so it’s a cool opportunity for community outreach and to show some positive support for our organization and to give back a little bit too,” Gunther said.
Lend a hand
Some of the soldiers came with prior experience and some didn’t, but that didn’t stop them from rolling up their sleeves and lending a hand wherever they could.
“I’ve never done a project like this before,” said 1st Lt. Brad Fisk of Bravo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “It sounded like a fun way to spend a Saturday, and help somebody out, be productive and be outside. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a lot of fun.”
“We (the network) had done one other project like this down in Austin, and it was really enjoyable getting out and helping the families and also learning some construction skills and bonding with all the other members and supporters of the Women’s Mentorship Network,” said Capt. Briana Stremick, also from 3rd Brigade.
“You have the immediate impact of today’s efforts, but you have ideas now for junior leaders to go back to their units and bring their soldiers back and create an opportunity to carry it forward within the ranks and to do community outreach there, so there’s a lot of really cool networking that goes on,” Gunther said. “You hear other people’s stories from the local community as well.”
Parson’s story is one of strength and resilience. While the circumstances that brought about the build might have been catastrophic to anyone else, Parsons and her 10-year-old son, Dominick, persevered and maintained a positive attitude.
“I’m the type of person that I believe there is nothing you can do about things like that (the fire),” Parsons said. “You can drive yourself crazy about it, or you can move on, so at that point I knew there was nothing I could do, and I still had a month left to work at camp, so I called the insurance company and let them handle it. I was actually just kind of numb for a little bit.”
Parsons said the reality of the situation didn’t really sink in until she and Dominick returned to Round Rock at the end of the summer and had no place to go.
At the start of the day, the house looked like an empty shell covered in housewrap, but by day’s end, it was sporting roofing materials and soffit, and the siding installation had begun.
The home was taking shape.
“It was great to work with some experienced people,” said Capt. Julie Leggett, commander of 3rd Brigade’s Charlie Company, 3rd Brigade Engineer Battalion and event organizer. “We’ll probably do another one six weeks from now. It’d be great to come back and put some finishing touches on Sherri’s house and get to see her toward the end when she’s about ready to move in.”
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Parsons said about being a homeowner. “I appreciate things anyway, but when you build something from the ground up, you really appreciate it.”