KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It's been several months since Vol Nation rallied around a basketball star's family, helping them find a home after their old one burned down.
Charmane Zeigler dodges boxes and furniture as she shares her vision for her grandson's new bedroom. Nori wants it to be all about race cars. It's been months, but her family is finally able to settle down.
“We did all agree — the house, the space, the area, it was just perfect,” said Charmane. “I don’t know if I’ve mentally been here. I physically have been doing it, but it’s more robotic because you do what you have to do."
Zakai Zeigler, a UT basketball star, is now closer to them. His family moved to Knoxville after their apartment in New York City caught fire and almost everything was destroyed. It happened in February 2021 and Charmane was able to escape with Nori. They had no time to grab his vital medical equipment on their way out.
Around 700 miles away in Knoxville, deep into basketball season, Zakai launched a GoFundMe campaign to help his mother recover. The goal was $50,000.
In no time, the campaign raised more than $350,000 — enough for the family to gather what little they could salvage and start anew in East Tennessee, closer to Zakai and Vol Nation.
“The people here are beautiful. I couldn’t think of another place I would want to raise my grandkids. If I would have known then what I know now I would have raised my kids here,” said Charmane.
In April, the Zeiglers found the perfect house. Since then, they have been renovating it to fit their needs — especially Nori’s medical needs. Holding back tears, Charmane said he is adjusting to his new life in Knoxville.
“Nori gets me worked up because the whole situation affected Nori the most,” she said. “Baby steps. Slow progress is still progress, so I will take it."
Now, Nori has his own room. A new wheelchair is on the way and he started therapy. She said he starts laughing and kicking his feet as soon as their car pulls into the driveway.
It’s a new beginning for the Zeigler family, including who Charmane calls, “the man of the family."
“Zakai’s name is on the deed with me because I would not be here without him at all, at all," she said.
As Charmane walks into the kitchen she proudly proclaims it’s her favorite room in the house. She can’t wait to whip up meals for Zakai and the rest of the Vols because a house full of family and friends is what makes a home.
“It feels like home and it’s been a long time since I felt like I was home," she said.