Fannie Mae Gosnell, 78, with her very good neighbor Debbie Harold, inside Gosnell's structurally damaged home in Jonesborough. (Sue Guinn Legg/Johnson City Press)
On April 16, 78-year-old Fannie Mae Gosnell was napping in her home when a chimney fire spread into the walls and eaves of her house on Frank Hilbert Road in Jonesborough.
Awakened by a smoke alarm, she escaped without injury. Her neighbors arrived even before firefighters and did all they could to rescue her cat, Shadow. And they’ve been doing all they can to put Fannie Mae and Shadow safely back under roof since then.
Debbie Harold, who lives down the street, was at work at the Johnson City Power Board when the mandatory disconnect order that comes with a house fire was requested by the fire department. “My heart flip-flopped,” she said. And the following day, Harold was on the scene too.
Her understanding was that Fannie Mae was “staying with different people” at night and coming home to care for Shadow each day. “It was cold,” she said. And on the morning she took over coffee and discovered Fannie Mae had spent several nights in her house without electricity, she told her, “You’re coming home with me.”
Because Harold is allergic to cats, Shadow stayed put. Fannie Mae, who remained as Harold’s house guest, continued her daily visits with Shadow as the bad news about their home came in.
When word got around that Fannie Mae’s insurance was insufficient to cover the needed repairs, the whole neighborhood rallied to help.
Contractor Randall Matheson, who also lives nearby, stepped up and volunteered his labor. A neighborhood yard sale and a benefit at Pickles’ Restaurant in Jonesborough raised nearly $2,000, and a building supply company donated $2,600 worth of lumber.
Then bad news struck again. Beneath Fannie Mae’s house, Matheson discovered standing water, extensive rot in the sill plates at the base of her walls and other structural damage that made it painfully clear the house is unsafe and should be demolished. Everyone’s hope is that a new one can be built in place.
Determined to help her friend, Harold launched a wide search for grants or other nonprofit assistance that led her to the Appalachia Service Project, the faith-based home-repair organization whose volunteers rebuilt more than two dozen houses in the Dry Creek and Cash Hollow communities after the devastating floods of 2012.
ASP assessed Fannie Mae’s house and came to the same conclusion. Demolition and a rebuild are necessary, making her one of four homeowners in the area with uninhabitable houses ASP would like to replace.
Undeterred by what may be a long wait time for ASP’s help and the estimated $40,000 cost of needed materials, Harold is working to line up the next fundraiser that she hopes will be large enough to include the entire community.
In the meantime, an account has been set up at Capital Bank in Jonesborough to accept donations from anyone who would like to help with the rebuild.
As for Fannie Mae, with her neighbors’ help and Matheson and ASP both on board for a rebuild, she is encouraged.
“I always said God gives you good friends. He gives you good neighbors too,” she said.
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