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The Families of Carney Place: Chapter 5

The Thomas family
Story and photos by Phil Kloer


Sharmain Thomas shares a hug with her daughter Liyah in the living room of their new house.


Khalil Thomas strikes a pose in his new bedroom.


Liyah, Sharmain and Khalil Thomas.


Sharmain Thomas and her children had walked through their new Habitat for Humanity house before. But this time was special: She was showing her children which bedrooms would be theirs.

Khalil, 10, celebrated in his new bedroom by executing martial arts kicks. His sister Kaliyah, 6, known as Liyah, squealed happily and ran a little victory lap in her room, and then hid in her closet in hopes someone would come looking for her.

Happy and tired, Sharmain Thomas smiled. By the beginning of January, she hopes, they will move in to their new home at the end of the cul-de-sac at Carney Place, a 22-home neighborhood that Habitat for Humanity of Asheville, North Carolina, is building.

Thomas’ journey to owning a Habitat home has been shorter than most due to an unusual development. Asheville Habitat had already built the house, using funds raised by its ReStore, when the family that had been selected for the house decided unexpectedly to drop out of the program.

Thomas, a loyal ReStore shopper, saw Habitat’s pre-application at the register and took one home. She was approved in September.

“I had been looking at the houses at the end of the cul-de-sac, because the kids can play outside and not worry about through traffic,” she said. “But they told me those houses were already taken. Then I come to find out this is going to be my new house.”

Thomas, 30, is a community support team worker for Western North Carolina Ray of Hope, a nonprofit that helps mentally challenged adult clients live independently.

The Asheville native had been the victim of two break-ins in her apartment, and she and her children now live with her grandmother while saving money to furnish their new home.

She juggles her full-time job and her children’s extracurricular activities — Khalil’s football and Liyah’s cheerleading and gymnastics — while still putting in the sweat equity and homeowner classwork the Asheville affiliate requires of new homeowners.

“It’s important for me to get the sweat equity in,” she said. But it’s also important to not have my children miss out on their activities.”

At Carney Place, Thomas said, she already feels like part of a community of volunteers and homeowners.

“Just the thought of people giving their time and their energy, for people they don’t even know, it restores my faith in humanity,” she said. “Not that I lost it. It just makes it that much stronger. When I go in to work at the site, the volunteers are just so excited for me.

“I haven’t always had the best experiences with people, so it’s good to know there are such good people out there.”

Read the entire story of The Families of Carney Place is following the families of Carney Place, the volunteers who build the houses and the Asheville, N.C., Habitat affiliate as the neighborhood moves from an abandoned field to a community of families living in their new homes. Check back for future installments.