Kristan Dahl and her four children are not products of their environment. On any given day, she and her family are witnesses to drug activity and other crimes near their Goose Creek mobile home park.
Just when things couldn’t seem to get any worse, Dahl, a survivor of a difficult marriage and a renovation scheme that led to homelessness, was told she would get the Habitat for Humanity home she applied for. Work started on the Goose Creek home in November and will be completed later this month.
On her own
In 2005, Dahl and her husband of 19 years divorced. “I thought it (the marriage) was going to get better. ... I wanted to leave other times, but I couldn’t do it. You need good support groups. It’s hard to do on your own,” she said.
Her husband cut her off from loved ones and tried to suppress her faith, she said. That didn’t stop her from instilling Christian values in her children. She said it was her faith that got her through and helped her to forgive others.
“I knew that even in our hardest times God was with us,” she said.
She also taught her children the importance of education. Her mother told her an education was pointless because she would have a husband to depend on. After being a stay-at-home mom for years, Dahl enrolled in classes for a degree in psychology. Once classes started, she was so enlightened she “felt cheated.”
Her children are a product of her faith and perseverance to educate herself.
Heather, 22, will graduate in May with a degree in religion from Columbia College and plans on going to seminary.
Ashley, 19, is majoring in biomedical engineering at the University of South Carolina and is in the top of her class of more than 400 engineering students.
Lindsey, 18, is a senior at Berkeley Center for the Arts, housed at Goose Creek High School, and has been accepted to Winthrop University to study theater.
Dahl’s 10-year-old son, Riley, hasn’t made his college plans just yet but has the examples of his mother and sisters to motivate him to succeed.
“I want my children to be self-sufficient so they will have a lesser chance of what I was in,” she said.
Struggle to start over
Dahl’s newfound freedom after moving from White Bear Lake, Minn., to Goose Creek in 2006 came with the responsibility of having to support her family. Before leaving, she found a job as an administrative assistant at the Medical University of South Carolina.
They moved into the mobile home park until she could find something better. But then she hired a neighbor who claimed to be an electrical engineer and whom she consulted with for several months to do renovations.
Instead, he left with the $2,100 she had paid him and left the family without a working bathroom, no running water and a patch in the ceiling with exposed electrical wires. She later discovered the man was unemployed and living off a relative.
“He (the renovator) said it was about survival. I pray for people like that. I see a lot of that in the trailer park. I always told my kids that life’s not supposed to be like that,” Dahl said.
The damage made the home unlivable, and they stayed at Tricounty Family Services for five months until it could be fixed. They still have problems with heating and electricity.
“What were the chances that they had an opening? If God’s hand wasn’t in it, I don’t know who was,” she said about being accepted into the shelter.
Their church, St. Luke’s Lutheran in Summerville, also helped them along the way.
In 2009, just as she was ready to start looking for a new house, grant funding ran out for her position at MUSC, leaving her jobless. A new home would have to wait.
“It’s not where we should be. ... I knew I didn’t want to live that way,” she said of the mobile home.
A turn for the better
In 2010, Dahl found a job as an administrative assistant at Charleston Southern University. The faculty and staff became a support system for her and her family.
“I always wanted to be independent and take care of my kids. Sometimes you have to humble yourself and not be afraid to trust other people or ask for help,” she said.
She applied for a Habitat home in February 2011 and was notified that May that her application was accepted. She was notified last summer that they were going to start working on the house.
“Oftentimes, what we see in these situations are families with lower incomes doing what they can to get things patched up and repaired. Sometimes it’s not the most professional work,” said Bryant Knepp, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Berkeley County. “She was trying to do the best she could with the situation.”
Students and faculty at the college have helped to build her new home, which is scheduled to be completed March 23. Dahl said she makes an effort to help out at the construction site and interact with the students.
“CSU has a longstanding commitment to the community. This is our seventh Habitat house. We’re contributing financially to the project, too,” said Richard Brewer, vice president for student affairs and athletics.
Brewer said he admires Dahl’s faith and positive example for her children despite their circumstances.
Advanced Placement art students and teachers from Cane Bay High School also have volunteered to add a special touch to her home by painting murals in several rooms.
“It’s a wow factor. It takes plain, white walls and gives the house personality,” said art teacher Barbara Richardson.
“I like that I’m able to use my talent for something positive. This will last forever, and it’s something they’ll always remember,” said art student Amanda Hazell.
Dahl said she is excited to move into a safer place for her children, where they can spend time outside. Their new home sits on nearly an acre.
She said she plans on taking more classes and becoming a social worker because she “understands what they’re going through.”
“I’ve seen so many peaks and valleys. It’s a good thing to come away from it all,” Dahl said.
Jennifer Berry Hawes contributed to this report. Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cane Bay High School AP art student Amanda Hazell paints part of the mural.×
From left, Kristan Dahl, along with her children, 10-year-old Riley Walker and 18-year-old Lindsey Walker, wipe down the walls of their new home in preparation for painting.×
Cane Bay High School AP art student Kailee Driggers paints part of a mural for a Habitat for Humanity home in Goose Creek.×