Volunteers help spruce up historic Beaufort home

dburley@islandpacket.comSeptember 21, 2013 

You might think Leon Smalls was cursed with bad luck.

Five years ago, a lightning strike set fire to his tiny house in Beaufort, forcing him to move into the historic home his family owns on West Avenue.

In February, a limb from a pecan tree fell and split his new home's porch in half, leaving a tangle of splintered wood and broken bricks that Smalls, who is legally blind, was physically unable to address, according to friends.

Small's luck finally turned Saturday.

More than 30 volunteers gathered at his house in the Old Commons neighborhood to spruce up the property.

Marines, Beaufort city employees, Baptist Church of Beaufort members and Historic Beaufort Foundation representatives all pitched in to clear brush, fix fences and patch the concrete walk.

"When you know your neighbors, you know their difficulties," said city councilman Mike Sutton, who lives two blocks from Smalls. "And when you get all these people willing to volunteer, it's hard not to show up and help them."

Over the past few years, Sutton, who owns Sutton Construction, has remodeled Smalls' bathroom and wired the home, he said.

Earlier this week, his firm cleared away the collapsed porch.

On Saturday, he used a frontloader to dig up the fence posts that volunteers were moving 10 feet closer to the house to sync with the property line.

The repairs were paid for by a $5,000 federal grant the city of Beaufort received in April to beautify historic properties, city planner Lauren Kelly said.

Smalls' home was built in 1880, she said, so it qualified.

"We had an idea to do some building improvements that wouldn't be too expensive," she said. "This not only makes the home look better, it affects the whole street."

The only person missing Saturday was Smalls himself. He's living at the Augusta Blind Rehabilitation Center to learn how to live day-to-day life with limited vision, said Rich Graig, his friend and caretaker.

Smalls, 60, lost most of his eyesight to glaucoma, Graig said.

Smalls, an Army veteran who worked in munitions, hopes to move to the Veterans' Victory House in Walterboro, Graig said. His family isn't sure yet what it will do with the house.

Many of the Marines on hand did not know Smalls was a veteran when they signed up to volunteer.

Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Reedy said he just saw it as an opportunity to give back.

"Most of us, we come here for a few years then go somewhere else," Reedy said. "I just want to leave a good face for the Marine Corps, so the community doesn't think we're just mooching."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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