Last summer, Lake Highlands High School alum Wendy Werther Haynes saw a story on the news that she couldn’t get out of her head.
Today, she and a group of new friends spend their weekends working — we’re talking hard labor — to repair the south Oak Cliff home of a man they hardly know.
Vernon Freeman, an 85-year-old Oak Cliff man, lost his home in an electrical fire. Vernon, along with son Levon and granddaughter Marsha, rented a place nearby, but each day he walked back to the charred remains of his house, where he labored and cleaned in an attempt to fix things, but his toil was of little use. Most days, he wound up sitting on the porch, in the Texas summer heat, no water or electricity for comfort.
A WFAA news crew showed up one day and ran a story about the aging yet spry man who couldn’t let his house go.
As a result of commenting about that story via Facebook, Haynes met another woman, Kristi Huls, who was equally tortured by the thought of Mr. Freeman, alone — day-after-day, month-upon-month — at the destroyed house.
And rather than simply lamenting the details from behind their computer screens, these women — both of whom have full-time jobs — did something astounding. They got together and drove across town to south Oak Cliff, where they introduced themselves to Mr. Freeman and asked if they could help him.
Indeed, they could. Wendy’s husband is a remodeler. Kristi’s is an electrician. The women employed their husbands and then used social media to garner more manpower and supplies. The generosity has been overwhelming, Wendy says. Lumber, plumbing, concrete, roofing, a dumpster and port-a-potty — just to name a few — have been donated and the home is well on its way to being reborn.
Lake Highlands resident Mitzi Werther has spent many days volunteering at the site. Wendy and Kristi started the Friends of Vernon Freeman group on Facebook, Mitzi tells us, and before you knew it, all of these people were coming out to volunteer.
Vernon’s Oak Cliff neighbors were a little suspicious at first, when all of these unfamiliar people started showing up in their neighborhood, she says. But they all knew Mr. Freeman. He has helped all of us at one time or another, neighbor Robert King says, so everybody comes out to help.
King even let the volunteers use his bathroom, before the port-a-potty was so generously donated.
Freeman himself is, of course, working dawn until dusk. And, these days, it seems the smile hardly ever leaves his face.
This group is toiling away and getting help from scores of Samaritans, but they still need funds if they are going to finish the project. Visit the Facebook page to find out how you can help — pay pal donations are being accepted, as are hard workers.
The still photos in the video were shot by Lake Highlands-based photographer David Werther. You can see more of his work here.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lake Highlands.