Cultivate Church surprises family with renovated home

By WILLIAM MARLOW | Special to the Reporter

COLUMBIANA — A look of shear disbelief came across the face of Morgan Bryant when she and her mom entered their home on Saturday, Aug. 28.

Surprised by members of Cultivate Church, Morgan and her mother walked into a newly-renovated home as part of a community service outreach program through the church.

Megan Ruff, who initiated the project, said that she has been overwhelmed by the community support throughout the months leading up to the renovation.

“I hope the family and all of Shelby County will see the love of Jesus through this, and I’m very thankful and grateful for everybody who put hands in this project with time and effort, and everything that the community did to rally around this family and just show them that they are loved,” Ruff said.

The renovation project began last month after Ruff learned of a neighbor and their daughter in need of renovating their home. So along with her two friends, Katelyn Albritton and Aubri McClendon, the three set out to help.

The trio initially began just purchasing items, but then the popular TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” came to mind, and the friends decided to renovate the entire home as well.

They began requesting furniture and essential household items on social media, and soon began receiving donations from across the country. The three received so many donations that they began storing the items in a barn.

“There was a lot that went into this with complete strangers just coming together,” Ruff said. “We had people who came in and hauled stuff and had people donating up until the very last minute. It was truly a beautiful thing.”

Ruff understands the value of a home having grown up in foster care since the age of 4.

Growing up, she drifted from foster homes throughout Alabama before arriving at Kings Home in Chelsea where she spent her teenage years. Now an adult, Ruff said she channels that experience as a means for positive change.

“I just want to share the love. It brings me joy, and it’s something that I love doing because there are things in life that people take for granted that others are out here literally dying for,” she said. “I enjoy serving my community and hopefully I can keep doing it.”

From cleaning the home to handcrafting new furniture, McClendon described the day as truly a labor of love.

“Over the past few weeks, we have been making all the furniture new again. There were days leading up that were full of anxiety and sleepless nights, but we want to do it and be the hands and feet of Jesus and love people through our actions because there is no greater way to love than unconditionally,” she said.

McClendon personally spent hours sanding and painting the family’s new kitchen chairs. As she worked, her mind often drifted to when her own community had rallied behind her after she had lost everything.

When she was just 15 years old, McClendon’s entire home burned during a house fire.

“It was a total loss, and we would not have been OK if our community hadn’t rallied and showed their love for me and my family,” McClendon said.

Following the fire, McClendon said her neighbors donated clothes, money and even offered her family places to stay.

“I know what it’s like to not have a stable place to live and not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow. So if I can provide that stability like people provided for me, then I absolutely will,” she said.

Eventually, McClendon said every piece of furniture in the home was replaced.

However, for her, the best part of the day was seeing the family’s reaction.

While church members worked, the Bryants traveled to Bessemer to enjoy an all-expense-paid trip at Alabama Splash Adventure.

As they returned, McClendon closed the doors of each room in the home, treating each newly renovated section with the surprise of a Christmas present.

“It was so neat to see their reactions because we knew God had led us to them. It was Just so sweet to see the end result,” she said. “A lot of times, you’ll do things and you never get to see that. Like you’ll donate money to a cause, but you never really know where it goes. So it was neat to be able to see their faces and know that they had been touched that day, and that they had felt the love of Jesus.”

As the family discovered each new phase of the home, the most emotional part of the day came as Morgan entered her room, which had been completely renovated.

As the door opened, Morgan jumped on her new bed, gazing at everything from her new clothes to a giant teddy bear toy. The girl paused only to embrace Ruff and McClendon in a hug, promising to cherish their gift.

“That just made our hearts swell because that’s what we wanted for her, a safe place to come home to,” McClendon said. “She just kept telling us it feels so cozy, it feels like home.”

Ruff too said the family’s reaction touched her the most.

“It was really emotional for me because I live here in the community, and I deal with people from this community every day and to just know that their needs are being met makes me really happy,” Ruff said.

Homeowner Nicole Bryant described her new house as surreal, and said it was a dream come true.

“I love it. This is just so surreal. I feel like I’m dreaming. I feel like I have to pinch myself. I appreciate them so much,” Bryant said.

Cultivate Church Pastor Brandon Matthews also helped with the renovations last weekend and said Ruff, McClendon and Albritton truly have servant hearts.

“I’m just inspired to know that there’s still good that happens in the world,” Matthews said. “So much of the news is often negative, but when you just take a moment and notice what’s happening around you every day, ordinary people are still going out serving. I think it should be an encouragement and an inspiration to us all.”

Even with all the good they have done so far, the trio said there are still countless families that need help.

“We’re already planning our next one. We love it. It is worth every anxious moment, every prayer pleading with God. We would do it again in a heartbeat,” McClendon said.

For the full experience, please watch Cultivate Church’s video recapping the day.