By GEORGE VARNEY and NATE ANTON
On top of the many garbage bags and boxes of junk cluttering the front porch at 409 Oak Street sits a dusty plaque. It reads “Community Champions, presented to Almeta Crayton, Civic Leader.”
The front porch belongs to Crayton, who has other trash bags overflowing with relics from a lifetime of community service: Easter eggs for the baskets she makes for the neighborhood kids. She has patriotic streamers and tinsel from the annual Memorial Day barbeque she hosts for veterans. And there are boxes of plastic serving utensils and cups from the “Everybody Eats!” Thanksgiving meal she has served meals to the community for 15 years.
Her service record has drawn the attention of Fairview Road Church of Christ, which selected Crayton’s home for the fifth annual “Extreme Home Makeover: Fairview Road Edition.” The Church hopes to raise more than $9,000 to renovate Crayton’s home. The work is slated to take place July 24-27.
“This year when we were thinking about someone we might be able to serve Almeta’s name came up from a lot of different places that weren’t talking to each other...We kind of felt like it was God leading us to help her,” Rev. Brian Hajicek of Fairview Road Church said.
“I’m just so tickled and appreciative and this is a Godsend...I’m so used to working myself, but it really is something when you can’t do it yourself,” Crayton said.
One of the home’s new features will be a wheelchair ramp to help Crayton, 53, into her home. She can’t walk or stand easily anymore, and has had to quit her job with Columbia Public Schools. In 2010, she was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease and has to go for dialysis three times a week. The process is hard on her body, having led to two heart attacks immediately following a treatment. She’s on the transplant list, but said it could take two and a half years before a kidney is available.
Crayton has been a household name in Columbia for decades. She moved here in the late 1980s so her son could get medical treatment. She opened the Successful Neighborhood Resource Center in 1998 and was elected as the first African-American city councilwoman in 1999, where she served for nine years. Once Crayton was no longer a member of the council, her programs lost funding. All with the exception of her Thanksgiving program, which still receives money from former Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman and his wife, Axie.
“We worked at Gentry Middle School together,” Gina Croft, a member of Fairview Road Church said, “We supervised 7th and 6th grade lunch periods. She gave to the school then, and she still continues even in bad health. Every year they come up with someone who is worthy, and Almeta is certainly that person this year.”
Crayton will be staying at a friend’s home during the construction process. She will be able to move in immediately after the project is finished.
“I can’t stay away, I’ll probably be across the street in the grass watching and a-lookin’ and a-watchin’,” Crayton said.
Hajicek said the Crayton project will likely be the biggest single undertaking yet for his church because of the scope of the repairs needed. Hajicek said more than 100 volunteers are expected to donate their time, contributing 15,000 hours of service over the four-day period.
The planned renovations cover the whole house and include replacing flooring, light fixtures, cabinets and appliances. Even the kitchen sink will be replaced. It’s one of several items already donated.
Fairview Road Church of Christ is seeking donations to pay for materials via its website. There is a list of individual items needed and the cost of each item, giving the donors the option of underwriting specific projects. The total needed is estimated to be $9,134.50. Volunteers don’t need to be a member of the church to work on this project.
Sign-ups begin through website July 15.