Jackson County constructs a new future for a family in need

There’s a word for what Kristie Smith dreams of.

Normal life.

OK, two words.

“I just want to sit on the couch, watch TV and do nothing,” Smith said Thursday.

Now, through Jackson County’s Constructing Futures program, she has a place for that.

On Thursday, Smith, with daughter Katrena, gave tours of their renovated Independence home. Constructing Futures, established in 2008 by Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, seeks to rehabilitate structurally sound homes for families in need while offering job skills training for those unemployed, underemployed or previously incarcerated.

Two homes in midtown Kansas City already have been renovated through the program. The Smiths’ home represents the first in Independence.

In 2008, Kristie’s husband Don died of lymphoma. In 2009, she underwent brain surgery as doctors removed a lesion and diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis.

In December 2010, doctors diagnosed Katrena with leukemia. She underwent a bone marrow transplant the following March.

Meanwhile their home in the 1500 block of South McCoy Street fell into disrepair. The basement flooded, and mold became an issue. After Katrena’s bone marrow transplant, she could not safely live there.

“The doctors told us the mold would have killed her,” Smith said.

At first they lived in a recreational vehicle. Later they moved into the basement of her mother’s home.

The first responders in the Smiths’ crisis included the Independence School District (Katrena attends Bridger Middle School) and Maywood Baptist Church, to which the Smith family belongs. Maywood Baptist contributed about $16,000 to pay off medical bills.

Then the county came in, supplying an unexpected bolt of good fortune.

“Lightning now has struck again, only this time in a good way,” Sanders told the Smiths on Thursday.

The Smiths’ home received an approximately $85,000 upgrade. Workers came through Connections to Success, a nonprofit organization. About $30,000 in job training was financed through the county’s COMBAT anti-drug program.

The project included about $20,000 in donated materials and about $35,000 from the county’s Housing Resources Commission.

“The commission is concerned with homelessness or near-homelessness,” said James Tindall, county legislator and commission chairman.

The Smiths no longer belong to either category. Katrena, whose leukemia is in remission, is scheduled to start at Truman High School in the fall.

“This is amazing,” she said Thursday. “I can’t believe it’s our home.”