A struggling Independence family unwraps a new home

Kenneth Harding of Independence had no idea exactly which needy family he was helping two months ago when, with scads of church volunteers, he helped renovate a ramshackle bungalow east of Noland Road.

He and his wife, Crystal, 25, and their three young children had been enduring a rough time themselves.

Lost jobs. Bankruptcy. They lost their home because they couldn’t afford to fix it. Most recently, they had been living in Harding’s grandmother’s basement.

Still, when the pastors at Eastside Baptist Church asked for volunteers, Harding, 27, showed up. He painted basement walls. He tore out old doors.

Then on Friday night at an Italian restaurant, the pastors pushed a small wooden box bearing a crucifix across the table to the family. Harding opened it and looked inside.

“This is the key to your new home,” student pastor Phil Hopkins said as the Hardings dangled what would open the door to the greatest Christmas gift they had ever received.

On Saturday, the two older Harding children, Alayna, 8, and Ashleigh, 5, ran through their three-bedroom home: new kitchen, new bathroom, new plumbing, redone floors, painted walls and ceiling, new appliances. The church placed a decorated Christmas tree in a corner on the living room’s hardwood floors.

“I was blown away,” Kenneth Harding said.

“I was shocked,” Crystal Harding said. “I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say.”

On Friday night, immediately after the dinner, the Hardings drove elated to the home, which also had a large, fenced back yard for their four dogs.

“The kids were screaming all the way,” Crystal said. “We were still in shock.”

Hopkins said that when the church purchased the home for $20,000 in August, the Hardings had not been chosen as the recipient. The idea, he said, was to remake the house and probably donate it to a needy family outside the congregation. About $20,000 was used to overhaul the building. Materials and hundreds of volunteer hours were donated.

But soon into the project, Hopkins said, it somehow seemed right to give it to the young family. Until last week, the Hardings were not even official members of the church but had been attending on and off for several years.

Their story was compelling. Crystal Harding lost her full-time job because she was spending lots of time at the hospital after their third child, Dayton, now 20 months old, was born 11 weeks premature, weighing a little more than 2 pounds.

Kenneth Harding became unemployed after a new job in construction fell through. The Hardings’ troubles were no fault of their own, Hopkins said. “We wanted to find that family that needed that one thing to get them up on their feet,” he said.

Crystal and Kenneth recently started new jobs. Kenneth has two, one at a hotel reception desk. The other is a temporary job at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. Crystal is helping provide home health care.

“We feel like God led us to the Harding family,” Hopkins said. The Hardings just feel blessed.