Lemonade and love support local family after fire

Jan. 7—Nettie Keith knows exactly what to do when she comes across a bushel of lemons in her life.

"I'm picking lemons and I'm making lemonade," she said.

A group of friends and acquaintances are helping Keith do just that in the face of a crisis. Lemonade and a GoFundMe site are contributing to a community effort to help Keith find housing and care for her special needs daughter and grandson after a fire destroyed their home on Dec. 23.

Keith's residence, the second story unit of a duplex in the 1900 block of Lee Street in Brunswick, burned when a gas line feeding the unit's heater busted. The fire destroyed the structure and displaced Keith, her special needs adult daughter, Jasmine Elkins, and her 6-year-old non-verbal autistic grandson, Jonah Elkins, two days before Christmas.

"It was so devestating," Keith said this week. "I just didn't know what to do."

She, her daughter and her grandson were able to get out of the house and avoid serious injury, but their belongings and their residence were destroyed. The thought of the fire still haunts Keith, but with the support of the community, she is confident things will work out in the end.

"It's still resting in the back of my mind," she said. "I'm trying to go forward and put this behind me."

Jane Christian and Alex Binkney have known Keith for years. Christian serves as the volunteer executive director for Social Opportunities and Active Recreation, or SOAR and has worked with Jasmine and Jonah through the program designed to strengthen the quality of life for individuals with developmental disabilities in Glynn and McIntosh counties. Deepening their connection, Keith serves as caretaker for Christian's elderly father.

Binkney worked with Keith when Binkney was a teacher at Golden Isles Elementary and more recently taught Jonah how to swim through SOAR and private lessons.

Binkney's grandchildren — Grae Frazier, 8, and Way Frazier, 7 — know Jonah through the swimming lessons and took things a step further.

"My granddaughter said, 'We can make money for Jonah. We can make a lemonade stand,'" Binkney said.

It was a cute idea Binkney thought would make $25 or so, but she underestimated the generosity of the Golden Isles. The lemonade stand was set up near Binkney's home in the Pier Village on St. Simons Island and brought in $500.

"Some people gave much more than just buying a cup of lemonade," Binkney said. "Some people gave $50 or more."

They recently gave the money collected from selling the lemonade to Keith and her family, who have been staying in a hotel since the fire. That hotel room is only covered through renter's insurance for a limited time, however, which means Keith will still have to figure out long-term housing soon.

To help with that, Christian, along with Maria Maes, started a GoFundMe site to raise housing money for Keith and to ensure Jasmine and Jonah have everything necessary to meet their needs.

"I just can't describe what caring giving person Nettie is," Christian said. "Nettie is a true survivor who has worked hard her whole life to make ends meet. She has always taken care of others, including an adopted daughter and a young grandson with autism. She's overcome breast cancer through it all. Everyday she wakes up with a smile on her face and joy in her heart."

The fundraiser had raised $4,270 of its $15,000 goal by Friday.

Keith said she has been overwhelmed by the generosity of the community and of her church, Elm Grove Baptist Church in the Meridian community of McIntosh County.

"It makes me so grateful that I have these people who are behind me 100 percent," Keith said. "My main concern is getting my daughter and grandson back to where they were. The most important thing is them."

There is still a tough road ahead for Keith. She has found that affordable housing is difficult to find and handling the logistics of the entire situation is challenging. She remains confident and faithful, however, that God and community will be there to support her.

"I'm turning this page in my life, and the more pages that turn, there is joy and there are people here to help," Keith said. "I'm going to pick those lemons and keep making lemonade."