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Local family shares Friends and Neighbors' success story in hope of helping others

Tanja Moody • Apr 29, 2013 at 11:58 AM

"Home Sweet Home" recently became an even sweeter phrase for Kenny and Becky Griggs, a Kingsport couple who, in the span of two years, went from being homeless to living in transitional housing to finally owning their own home. The Griggs are a success story for Friends and Neighbors Inc., a community-based, non-profit group dedicated to fighting homelessness within the population of Kingsport city school students.

In the fall of 2011, Kenny lost the job he’d held for almost 18 years. The family moved out of state hoping to find employment, but when they found no jobs readily available, they returned to Kingsport.

The Griggs lived in a friend’s house when they came back to Kingsport.

"People don’t have to be living in a box to be homeless," said

Kindle Horton, a Friends and Neighbors board member.

It was a time that was especially tough for their son, Becky said.

"People look down on you when you’re homeless," Becky said. "They may not mean to, and they may not think they are, but they do."

The Griggs then met

Michele Wilder, Kingsport City Schoolscoordinator of the Homeless Education Program, who put the family in touch with Kermit Addington, Friends and Neighbors’ founder.

"Good things happened from then on," Becky said.

"We deal only with homeless families with children in the Kingsport city schools," Addington said. "You don’t always find those families living under bridges. You often find them doubled up with another family, living in apartments, local motels or public housing. Sometimes, you’ll even find them living in cars."

Kenny started his own business, Ken’s Painting Service, which specializes in painting and home maintenance. Addington’s organization helped the Griggs move into one of the three houses that have been donated to Friends and Neighbors. Becky said they paid a reduced rent rate while living at the house.

Participants are screened and must meet three requirements before they are chosen as clients: they must be employed, be able to pay a portion of rent and desire to live independently. Once they’re a client of the organization, they are required to do 250 hours of community service.

"Friends and Neighbors is about being a hand up, not a handout," Horton said.

Kenny started helping Friends and Neighbors by using his handyman skills to put down a new floor in the kitchen and bathroom of the house. He still regularly uses his pickup truck to haul donated furniture whenever Addington calls him. The Griggs joined the PTA and worked in the concession stands during school football games.

And now, the family has moved out of the transitional house they rented from Friends and Neighbors.

"That’s the success story," Becky said. "We’re buying our own house. We were one of the first families in the program. We moved into their house in October 2011, and we just moved out. We’re in our new place now."

But Addington isn’t finished growing Friends and Neighbors. He recently spoke to the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen and shared that the number of homeless city school students currently totaled 289, of which 28 were being helped by Friends and Neighbors. He hopes to have two more houses donated soon so the group can aid even more local homeless families.

Friends and Neighbors Inc. partners with Eastman Credit Union and several other groups, including Christ Fellowship Church, Crossroads United Methodist Church, Preaching Christ Church, and the Kingsport Housing Redevelopment Authority. Private donors have also helped with funding and resources.

"The Griggs came back to Kingsport because it was home," Addington said. "They knew the heart of the community that could support them as they got back on their feet.

"We’ve come a long way," he added. "The task is endless. But we can make a dent. I like to ask people this question, ‘If you knew there were 289 homeless children in Kingsport city schools, what would you do about it?’ They can join Friends and Neighbors in the effort to create a community working together to reduce homelessness."

For more information about Friends and Neighbors Inc., visit www.friendsandneighborsinc.com/ or call 423-967-2278.

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