A Johnson County man who sustained severe burns in a June 2018 fire and who overcame the odds to survive was welcomed back home Friday in a big way — although that home looks different today.

More than 90 individuals from 11 groups put in

more than 1,000 man hours of volunteer work over several months, coordinated by Christian Appalachian Project, to completely remake the home for Willie Owens, his wife Jessica and their two children. The work brought together CAP, the Highlands Church of Christ and many other volunteers.

“I want to say thank you, for me, just for what this community can do,” Owens said. “Not just for me, because it’s me, but just to see that everybody can come together and what amazing things they can do. Thank you to everybody that was involved.”

The home, Owens said, was built shortly after World War II, and was already undergoing some renovations Owens had started before the accident. It had belonged to his grandparents, next to his parents’ home, and he said he grew up in both homes.

The remodel involved a new roof and siding, and a revised floor plan, necessitating new walls, new closets, new doors and energy efficient windows relocated from their original locations, new heating and air conditioning units, and a new deck and porch with wheelchair ramps. Every doorway has been widened for wheelchair accessibility, and the bathroom has been completely remade.

Project co-leaders Robert Moore and Ron Morrow made the design changes as the project progressed, talking with Owens’ family while he was still fighting for his life in the hospital — and the work began on the house even though his prognosis was so bleak, some doctors said he would never leave the hospital. Morrow said he had met Owens at a church function, and counted him as a friend even before the accident and the renovations.

Owens had just finished mowing the lawn in June of last year when the mower flipped, setting him on fire. He has since lost both legs and his left arm up to the elbow. Owens had been left-handed.

“The biggest change has been just taking time,” Owens said. “Being in a hurry was where I was before, but now, you’ve just got to take your time, because it takes me longer to do things, even basic things like eating or putting clothes on.”

Owens, still quick with a joke, said his positive outlook has surprised some.

“I’m still me. And I’m thankful for being able to still be me,” Owens said. “I’d rather just laugh.”

Bryan Byrd with CAP told Owens to remember that he is an inspiration to everyone involved in the project. 

A prayer at Friday’s homecoming event recalled 2 Samuel 7:29. 

“Now therefore, may it please you to bless the house of your servant. So that it may continue forever before you; for you, oh Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”

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