Sisters Kalyn and Amy Lewis won more than trophies when they finished first and second in the county's spelling bee just two days after becoming homeless.
Their inspirational accomplishment captured the hearts of Charleston residents and has led their family into a new home.
Their family of six had been living out of a low-budget motel room since being evicted from public housing Jan. 20.
A Post and Courier story chronicling the girls' success in the face of adversity prompted an outpouring of community support. Readers gave more than $8,500 to a school district account designated for the family, and others contributed food, clothes and books.
The biggest and most critical gift has been the two-story, four bedroom house on the peninsula that the Lewis family began calling home this past weekend. The nonprofit group Pastors has agreed to let the Lewises stay there for six months, and any rent or utility costs will be covered by the community's generosity as well as groups including East Cooper Community Outreach, Charleston Trident Urban League, and the county's Human Services Commission.
"I love this house," Kalyn said. "Now I've got my own space."
"I love it, too," Amy said.
After reading the newspaper article, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said he felt moved to find the family a place to live and help them get on their feet. He mobilized his staff and coordinated local agencies to make the new home a reality, and he said he's committed to being involved with the family.
"This story is a reminder that we live in a wonderful community with a lot of wonderful people," he said.
The Lewis family's home is just a few blocks from the girls' school, Sanders-Clyde Elementary/Middle. Kalyn and Amy can see the school through one of the windows in the room they share. Their identical twin 6-year-old sisters also share a room, while their 15-year-old brother and mother, Anikia, have separate rooms.
Kalyn and Amy showed off their new twin beds and matching comforters on Monday. They lost virtually everything they owned during the eviction, and the list of basic items they needed was long. Dixie Furniture dramatically reduced its prices for beds and dressers for every room, and the family received gift cards for household goods, such as comforters and cookware. They also have a washer and dryer, two couches and a dining room table.
The money the community has given is being managed by the Charleston Trident Urban League, and 100 percent will go toward the family's expenses.
Decorations are sparse, but the family is finding ways to make it their own. Amy hung her runner-up certificate from the spelling bee on the wall, and Kalyn propped up a CD from her favorite singer, Michael Jackson, on a shelf in her closet.
"It seems like I've already been living here for a long time," Amy said.
Amy can't wait to host friends for a sleepover, and Kalyn plans to bake a cake in their new kitchen. The sisters said they felt safe in the house, which is raised one level above the neighborhood, and they looked at ease in their surroundings. They played on a computer that a family member gave them, while their twin sisters amused themselves by making up a game.
Their mother spent all of Sunday cooking a pot roast with rice, corn on the cob and string beans. It was the first time she's been able to cook a true meal since their eviction, and the girls didn't leave any leftovers.
Anikia hasn't found a job yet, but she plans to apply to the Charleston County School District. She said she's going to begin studying to earn her GED. She's committed to finishing her education so she can provide a better life for her children, and she hopes to eventually be able to move back to Mount Pleasant.
"It's the start I always needed and wanted," she said. "I haven't felt this good in so long."
The Lewis sisters will compete in the regional spelling bee on March 11.
HOW TO HELP
To make a donation, make checks payable to the Lewis Family Fund c/o CTUL and mail them to P.O. Box 20249, Charleston, SC 29413.
For more information on how to help, contact George Bresnihan with the Charleston Trident Urban League at (843) 965-4037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.