Ruth Bryant has enjoyed living at Kiwanis Towers so much, she's stayed here nearly 17 years.
And today, she's loving her home even more, thanks to a renovation project that's provided her with new windows, a new handicap-accessible front door, and a new kitchen.
"I've lived here almost 17 years, and I wouldn't go any other place," said Ms. Bryant, age 93. "I just love it."
In operation since 1982, Kiwanis Towers provides affordable housing to low-income elderly and disabled residents at 2700 E. Center St. in Kingsport. Upgrades to the 95-unit apartment building include a new roof, new windows, a new front door, hot water boilers, and new insulation and stucco around the exterior of the six-story building.
Five of the facility's apartments that were designed for handicap-accessibility are also getting upgrades, including new kitchens.
The $1.3 million renovation project, financed with a loan from the Department of Housing & Urban Development, is visible to passersby, who may notice construction crews working on scaffolding next to the building.
For Vicky Ward, who serves as president of the Kiwanis Towers Resident Association, the renovations are much needed and appreciated. Ms. Ward has lived here for three years.
"My window in the living room leaks water, and air comes through it like crazy. When it rains hard, I know to get out the towels. So I'll be glad when they get to my apartment," she said.
Renovations are expected to be completed by mid-November.
"I think it's all going to be great when they get it all done," Ms. Ward said.
Kiwanis Towers gets its name from the civic club dedicated to building a better community. In 1977, some local groups began looking at the need for senior housing in Kingsport and formed an organization called Housing Older People Enterprise (HOPE).
HOPE wanted to apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, but soon learned that applicants were required to have a much longer history and have a $10,000 binder to submit with the grant application.
That's when the Kiwanis Club of Kingsport got involved. The club agreed to provide the binder, and HUD approved a $3.5 million grant in 1979 to build the apartment building. (The club was reimbursed its $10,000 out of the grant money). Construction began in October 1980, and Kiwanis Towers opened its doors to a waiting list in 1982.
Today, Kiwanis Towers is operated by National Church Residences, a not-for-profit organization based in Columbus, Ohio. And although the Kiwanis Club doesn't own or operate the building these days, its members still play a big role at the facility. Kiwanis member Jim Cornell said the local club purchased a 14-passenger van for residents and now club members take turns driving residents in the van on shopping trips.
Kiwanis members also help keep up the landscape by raking leaves, trimming shrubs, and painting the exterior wood fence. And the Kiwanis Club provides a Christmas dinner for residents each year.
Ms. Ward said residents love their home. "We aren't leaving until the good Lord takes us," she said.
Custodian Jerry Sherfey said Kiwanis Towers is so popular, the facility has maintained a long waiting list since its opening. The wait is approximately three to six months for a one-bedroom apartment, and 12 to 16 months for a handicap-accessible unit.
Together, residents enjoy church services on Sunday afternoons, arm-chair exercise classes, Bingo and board games, movie nights, and a monthly birthday party for all those celebrating another year for that particular month.
Just recently, residents were buying tickets to win a quilt in a raffle to raise money for their Angel Tree Fund. Ms. Ward said the residents enjoy working to raise money to "adopt" needy children at Christmastime.
"I would love to raise $500 this year - we could adopt five children. That would be wonderful!" Ms. Ward said.
Kiwanis Towers has an onsite manager, custodian, and a service coordinator who helps residents with various needs, such as Medicare questions and how to apply for certain benefits. The First Tennessee Human Resources Agency provides a weekday lunch program at the site for a $2 "suggested" donation. And Meals on Wheels brings lunch on weekdays to those unable to cook for themselves.
Of the facility's 95 apartments, 90 units have one bedroom, and five units have two bedrooms. Twelve of the apartments are handicap-accessible.
For more information about Kiwanis Towers, call 423-246-4302.
For information about the Kiwanis Club of Kingsport, visit the club website.