Foundation renovates guesthouse in St. Mary’s Highland Hills Village | Lifestyles

Ask a mother what her son’s accomplishments are and she can write a book. Ask a mother what her recently deceased son would think of the foundation that was created in her name and tears flow easily, raining down her cheeks like heavily loaded bullets.

Sue Stephens lost her son Benjamin Stephens in a car crash in Atlanta in 2020, but her family turned their pain into purpose by establishing the Benjamin John Stephens Foundation. Their mission is to create and sustain a legacy in Benjamin’s name that will create a positive impact on the community of Athens and Oconee County.

One of the foundation’s first projects was to partner with St. Mary’s to redevelop a guesthouse in St. Mary’s Highland Hills Village. The home provides a place to stay for out-of-town families while they care for loved ones who are in St. Mary’s Hospital, House St. Mary’s Hospice or Highland Hills Village .

“You want to be close when your loved ones are hurting in the hospital,” said TJ Stephens, brother of Benjamin Stephens. “And we’re just trying to pay it forward.”

The Stephens family was inspired to remodel a home because of their own experience staying at a guest house near the hospital where Benjamin was in Atlanta.

“It was a blessing to be so close,” Sue Stephens said. “We were able to… just focus on caring for Ben. It was a blessing that we had that, and we wanted to pass that on.

The house the Stephens remodeled housed the nuns who founded St. Mary’s. The nuns left when COVID-19 hit, and the house sat unoccupied for about two years, Sue said. In November 2020, the Stephens family reached an agreement with St. Mary’s and renovations began in September 2021.

The Stephens family installed new appliances and redone the kitchen and the sidewalk leading to the house. They pressure washed the house and stocked it with kitchen utensils and bathroom supplies. They installed new beds, light fixtures and decorated the house with the photographs Benjamin took during his travels.

“The sisters were really happy that the spirit of this house was changing to something positive,” Sue said.

Sue said the renovation was a “labor of love” for the family. Geneviève Stephens, Benjamin’s sister, designed the layout of the house while TJ designed the foundation’s website. The whole family worked on projects around the house.

“It was a healing house for us in many ways, and it will be for the people who come into it,” TJ said.

Going forward, St. Mary’s will retain ownership of the house so they can manage it, but the Stephens family remains grateful for their partnership.

“This house was here vacant and…it’s pretty awesome that we joined forces and made lemonade out of lemons,” TJ said. “People can learn about Ben’s legacy and perhaps be inspired and motivated to live like Ben.”

The family has no doubt that Benjamin would be proud of the house that has been remodeled in his memory.

“I think he would be really happy for something good to come out,” Sue said.

“It’s the good that comes out of a tragedy,” Sue said. “Someone gave me a quote that says ‘there are some who bring such a bright light into the world that even after they’re gone the light remains’ and that’s what Ben will do…because I know that he is always there in spirit.”

For anyone staying at the guest house, Ben’s memory will greet them. It’s in the photographs on the walls; it is in the peace that permeates each piece. And it’s in the magnolia planted in the front yard.

Anyone wishing to donate to the Benjamin John Stephens Foundation can visit youhebenjaminjohnstephensfoundation.org.

For more on this story, check out the April 7 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores, grocery stores and newsboxes across Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website.

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