LAURINBURG — In an impressive chorus of hammers, saws, and brushstrokes, the legacy of Devin Gardner, a Scotland High School senior killed in a car crash a year ago, is taking shape on Sugar Road.
In September 2012, at the same time the 17-year-old member of its congregation and handbell group died, First Baptist Church was laying the foundation for the most ambitious community service project in its history.
The church had earlier that year demolished a house located on a nearby piece of church-owned land. The church’s pastor, C.F. McDowell, decided that the congregation could bring that action full circle as a celebration of its 135th anniversary this year.
“I challenged the church, since we spent so much money to tear down a house, why not raise money to build a house,” said McDowell.
Presented with an outpouring of support following their son’s death, Devin’s parents David and Sally Gardner channeled that goodwill along to the partnership between First Baptist and Habitat for Humanity of Scotland County.
“Devin was a very outgoing young man and he had a whole lot of friends,” said Sally Gardner. “It was always people that he looked to help in some way, to talk to, and be a friend to and show that he loved them. We felt that putting his memorials toward this project would be a way of helping someone else have something that they may not otherwise have.”
The church has raised over $31,000 toward the homebuilding project, which saw its first day of construction on Sept. 17. The 1,100 square-foot, three-bedroom home will be the 44th house built by the local Habitat for Humanity since its inception in 1992.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, but this is awesome,” First Baptist volunteer Sara Willis said as she rolled a layer of paint onto the walls of a closet. “I think this is fun to do something for somebody knowing you’re not going to get anything back — that’s just a true expression of Christ’s love for someone.”
Upon its completion in early November, the house will be owned and inhabited by Niquetta Dockery and her 6-year-old son Cameron. It will be the first time Dockery, a teaching assistant at Spring Hill Middle School, will be able to experience owning a home.
“I’m just looking forward to becoming a homeowner and being able to have a blessing I could call my own,” said Dockery. “At the end of the day I’ll have something that’s mine, and from my son’s point of view, a backyard for him to play in.”
In addition to generous space for practicing soccer, Cameron will also have a bedroom of his own. The child’s visits to the work site have been among the highlights of the project for many of the volunteers.
“He kept his eyes closed until he got here so he could see it all at one time,” said First Baptist member Rick Hodges. “He closed his eyes when he got in the car and said, ‘I don’t want to open my eyes until I get there.’ They came down the road and when they parked out here he opened his eyes and it was the first time he saw it. He was so excited that he was going to have a house to live in. That was one of those special times in the build.”
The Gardners have been instrumental in organizing the cohort of 45 First Baptist volunteers who have spent their time constructing the house, as well as the 40 other church members who have assisted by preparing meals for the work crew.
“We tried to inspire our son to be proud of the things that he could do and the people that he could help in his life,” Sally Gardner said. “Niquetta is a very sweet, churchgoing young lady and we have the utmost appreciation for her as a teaching assistant in the schools, helping children in that way. It’s a pay it forward situation.”