Financial Woes Keep West Virginia Family in the Cold

Story & photos by Laura Reinhardt

From a distance, the more than 100-year-old farmhouse in Flemington, West Va. offers an idyllic rural scene. Horses graze out front in green pastures. A wraparound porch conjures images of families relaxing while sipping glasses of lemonade. But up close to the home where Teena Freeze and Lloyd Conn live with their three sons—Jacob, Caleb, and Jaden—it's anything but ideal.

Teena Freeze huddles in the warm front room (warmed by a pellet stove the family was able to get). Her nearly 3-year-old son feeds his younger brother, 18-month-old Jaden.

The front door on that deceiving wraparound porch doesn't open so the family uses the back door. Inside, the hardwood floor slopes, suggesting a sagging foundation.

But the family's main concern is the temperature inside.

"A couple of years ago, we almost froze to death in this house," says Lloyd. "When you come in the house, there’s ice on the inside of the windows."

Mounting Troubles

Three years ago, June floodwaters from a nearby creek seeped into their basement and got inside the furnace, destroying it. Since then, the house has had no kind of central heating. "We couldn't afford to get another furnace," says Teena.

"This old house, things break down, and it seems like they all break down at once," says Teena. They're not on the city water or sewer, but they have a reservoir tank and a pump that delivers water to the bathrooms upstairs. Both the pump and tank had to be replaced last year.

"The problems we've had around here, we can never seem to get things put ahead," says Lloyd.

Teena and Lloyd know that it's best not to wait until the last minute to repair things. But without the funds to take care of a problem immediately, trouble escalates.

Lloyd Conn puts his son, Caleb's shoes on. Behind them is one of two sources of heat in the family's home—a wood pellet stove. The stove only heats the family's front room. The rest of the house is colder inside than outside.

 

"Not having main heat in the house has caused the water pipes to freeze and be replaced a second time," says Teena. "...to save on that we've tried to do [projects] ourselves. That's a trial and error because sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don't."

"If there's one thing I've learned, [it's that] there's nothing simple with this house," says Lloyd. "You may think, ah five minute job.—no a five hour job."

The Working Poor

Lloyd works doing night stocking at the local Wal-Mart store. He gets paid $10.10 an hour because the midnight shift pays a little extra. Teena stays home to take care of the boys right now. Teena says, "Probably right now it would cost more to get a babysitter for the two younger ones." Plus she would need to pay for gas and the maintenance on the car.

Still they are trying to figure out ways to improve their financial situation. Lloyd was in school studying to be an Emergency Medical Technician. Financial difficulties and family strains have forced him to put this on hold for the time being.

Teena has her degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting. "I hope to be able to go to H & R Block some day, maybe soon," says Teena.

"Maybe sooner than later," laughs Lloyd, knowing that the family's situation isn't improving especially as the winter cold moves in.

The other financial assistance they get is from the social security money that Teena receives from her deceased husband, John Freeze. She and John moved into this house on their first anniversary. John died of a massive heart attack nearly eight years ago, at the age of 43. It was his second heart attack, with his first coming at the age of 33.

Caleb, nearly 3, lives in a house with his brothers and parents Teena Freeze and Lloyd Conn. The family can't afford to heat the house.

Doing Things You Wouldn't Normally Do

Teena and Lloyd have been together for nearly seven years. They are committed to each other and want to get married, but they desperately need the additional income from social security, which would end for Teena if she remarried.

"We would've gotten married several years ago, well before Jacob (their oldest child) even come along but it was just the economy and everything so expensive and a need for that money," says Teena. "It makes you do things that you wouldn't normally do, because I wasn't raised to not get married."

Surviving the Cold

Last winter, they survived the cold by using kerosene lamps. "Literally the kerosene heaters is what saved us," says Lloyd. Still it's not the healthiest option. That was the one time they felt having a drafty old house helped out. Had the home been well-insulated, the fumes might have overwhelmed the family.

This year they don't want to do that because their youngest son, Jaden, 18 months, has lung issues. He was born premature so his lungs weren’t fully developed.

Instead, they have a pellet stove in the living room and a coal and wood-burning stove in the kitchen. These keep their respective rooms warm, but the rest of the house is colder inside than outside.

Even with the pellet stove, a draft permeates up through the floor and the window in the front room.

Teena and Lloyd estimate that a new furnace would cost them about $2,800 so they're saving their money in the hopes of being able to get one soon.

Helping Hands Boost Spirits

In the summer of 2011, a World Vision mission team came to help on some of the maintenance projects at the home. Their expertise helped prevent Teena and Lloyd from having to work through all the do-it-yourself trial and errors.

Each summer, hundreds of volunteers pack their bags and head to Appalachia to help families in need with building projects. Local churches provide lists of families they think most need the assistance and World Vision supplies the building materials and the enthusiastic volunteers.

"Oh they were great. I actually hope to get them back," says Teena. "I told them they could move in if they wanted to."

This was a far cry from the couple's initial reaction. Teena worried that she would need to put on a happy face around the team and she didn't feel up for that.

"At the time that they came around, we'd been having a lot of struggles," says Lloyd. "The house literally falling apart at once and everything breaking down from the truck to the tractor. Our spirits, it was just like, really negative."

Then the missions team came from Sugar Creek, Ohio, and lifted up the entire family. Teena says she couldn't wait for them to return the following day after she met them.

Dave Leach, World Vision's site director in West Virginia says, "It's fun to watch God give us what we need even when we don't know what we need at the time."

The mission team installed a new roof on the back porch. Before they fixed it, the porch sported a gaping hole right over the spot where the family kept the firewood. Despite the tarp covering the hole, the wood still got wet.

A new French drain dug by mission team members directed water away from the basement, helping to prevent more damage to the already-flooded basement.

"I had a shower surround wall that I was going to attempt to put in myself but I'm glad that I didn't because I would've probably messed it up. They put it in for me," says Teena.

Some of the teenaged girls on the team even set up the swimming pool for the boys. They formed a bucket brigade and filled the pool up pail by pail.

Teena says, "I can't thank them enough. I mean I really appreciate it. Their generosity is overwhelming. It makes you want to go out and do something for someone else yourself then."

While Teena and Lloyd know that there are still many projects that need doing around the old farmhouse, they now know that there are people in this world who care. They know that they've got a friend in World Vision.

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