Chris Watkins loves to build stuff.
Doesn’t really matter what.
The 34-year-old Marine from Long Beach, Calif., has always been infatuated with constructing things, whether it’s his beloved Lego car collection or china cabinets or bunk beds or shelves or a rebuilt 1967 Ford Shelby GT500 or semiconductors at his night-shift job at Applied Materials.
Always has been his passion.
Is there anything he can’t build?
“No,” he said without hesitation. “My limit on building is replacing transmissions on cars. I can do it, but I don’t like it.”
His biggest challenge, however, now involves building some much-needed stability and a promising future for his 31-year-old fiancée and their three young children.
They have endured more than their share of hardship, including a year of homelessness and three other years of lengthy stays in different hotels and several months in a tiny shed behind his father’s house in Hutto. In that shed, he slept on an air mattress, and she slept on a wooden couch. Their one child at the time slept in a play pen.
Both he and Omaha-born fiancée Rebecca Adamson are veterans. Adamson has degenerative arthritis in her lower spine and anxiety disorder. She had to quit her food delivery jobs because of the constant pain.
They now share a small, cramped apartment in North Austin with 8-year-old son Leon Adamson as well as their 2-year-old, curly-haired daughter Keiko Watkins and 1-year-old son Lucas Watkins as well as two large Labradors.
The couple’s biggest hope is to get out from under almost $10,000 in debt and someday qualify for a Veterans Affairs loan to buy a home. Adamson, 34, a devoted cook since her childhood, hopes to create her own cookie-baking business and maybe even work out of a food truck.
She has even dreamed up a name, “Rebecca’s Sweet Treats.” She finds that baking calms her.
“It quiets my mind,” she said. “My anxiety has been horrible.”
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Adamson and Watkins are working to provide a healthy environment for their three children while they try to make ends meet and share their 2007 Toyota Highlander with its history of 375,000 miles.
“They’re trying to get out of that mindset where they were thinking they were going to be homeless again,” said Marllory Burgos, caseworker for Foundation Communities, which nominated the family. “They’re doing so much better. When they tell you they’re going to do something, they actually do it.”
Adamson grew up in Omaha, Neb., and was in and out of foster homes until she was adopted by a couple as the youngest of six children. Watkins, who graduated from Anderson High School where he ran track, was still getting over the devastation from the loss of his mother to lung cancer when he was a 15-year-old high school freshman. “It was rough,” he said.
Both looked to the military for some answers. They served in the Marines, Watkins as a lance corporal for six years, including two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Adamson also as a lance corporal for four years working in warehouse supply in Okinawa, Japan, after injuring her back in boot camp.
Watkins chose the military in part because his father had served 22 years in the Navy as an electrical engineer, and he wasn’t academically inclined. Adamson went that route to earn benefits to help her pay her way through culinary school with hopes of opening her own bakery.
“I did love it,” Watkins said of the Marines, adding he almost chose to make a career of it.
Instead, he has juggled jobs at Leslie’s Pool Supplies and at Applied Materials, where he currently works the night shift until 3 a.m. and sometimes closer to sunrise. He rarely sleeps more than four or five hours a night and spends his time off with his kids or constructing things like his Legos 2023 Shelby GT500.
“The majority of my hobbies is building stuff,” Watkins said. “I love building bike ramps to Legos to model airplanes. I can build semiconductors from start to finish, from an empty shell to what you see when it’s done. I just love building stuff.”
The Watkins and Adamson family’s wishes:
Dental surgery; gently used car; help with bills, including car payment, car insurance and cellphone debt; washer and dryer; clothing on Amazon; karate, swim and gymnastics lessons; day care twice a week; braiding course; storage unit; dressers; couches; laser hair removal and European wax; hydrotherapy; wedding; a food truck; electric bike with infant attachment; a ride-on motorcycle or car toy; Empire bike passports; a family trip such as to Disney, a Disney cruise, Legoland, Okinawa, Santa’s Wonderland or Kalahari Resorts; a smartwatch; a spa day; gift cards to Bath & Body Works; and gift cards to H-E-B.
Their wish list is available on Amazon.
Nominated by: Foundation Communities, 3000 S. Interstate 35, Suite 300, Austin, TX 78704. 737-267-5738, foundcom.org
Its mission: To create housing where families succeed.
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Based in New York, Stephen Freeman is a Senior Editor at Trending Insurance News. Previously he has worked for Forbes and The Huffington Post. Steven is a graduate of Risk Management at the University of New York.