BY R.J. Minnick
A mailbox, a set of keys, a front door. All symbols of a home.
Building homes takes people with a plan, materials, means and determination. It takes what Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Ann Griffin calls “synergy”. It’s their ability to make everything come together for one house and roll that success into the next one, and the next. For 25 years, Fayetteville's Habitat for Humanity has enabled people who couldn't do it any other way to achieve home ownership through a unique application of time, money and labor.The process begins with a decision.
In September of 2012, Frances Wingate decided to try and own her own home. With the help of Habitat for Humanity’s Family Selection Coordinator Jimmy Teal, she began by visiting the Habitat’s website (www.fayettevillenchabitat.org). The site lists seven questions Wingate needed to address. Had she been a resident of or employed in Cumberland County for a year or more? Was her annual family income considered ‘low income’ according to HUD guidelines, and did she live in what is defined as substandard housing? (This can mean subsidized housing or housing that is simply inadequate.) Was she able to pay an escrow deposit and maintain a minimum mortgage payment?
A scary prospect, and that is why Habitat for Humanity exists.
An openly Christian-based organization, Habitat spends no time proselytizing. One does not have to be Christian to participate as client, employee or volunteer. Habitat is “faith in action”, as the organization and its volunteers work energetically to achieve the mission: a world where everyone has a decent place to live. It is, as Ann Griffin is fond of pointing out, how they are their brother’s keeper.
Habitat for Humanity’s operations have changed. Today’s insurance and code regulations require that professionals do much of the work. Volunteers complete tasks consisting of painting, trimming, landscaping and clean-up. Those under 18 cannot handle power tools, and under 16 cannot be on an active hard-hat site at all.
One program with Habitat that still relies heavily on volunteers is “A Brush with Kindness.” Volunteers apply through the website and are processed by Coordinator Mark Hammond. He puts together teams by arranging schedules, notifications and directions to the work site while following up with site supervision. Volunteers tackle maintenance and repair of existing Habitat houses. Projects generally take place on Fridays and Saturdays, but this past May, the 34 seniors at Fayetteville Academy spent their Senior Week volunteering. Arzu Patel, a Fayetteville Academy volunteer, said partnering with Habitat for Humanity was an incredible experience. “We as a senior class were brought closer to each other and the community through hard work and service, and the memories from it will last a lifetime,” he said, echoing sentiments of many volunteers.
A second program brings in teams assembled by Chaplain Herb Lemkey of Fort Bragg to help renovate existing homes acquired for new homeowners. Soldiers help with demolition and removal of debris and then with various stages of re-building. It’s a way for them to learn about and give back to their civilian community. Teams from Ft. Bragg have included female soldiers for the women’s builds, engineers for demolitions and one team composed of only lieutenants. Chaplain Lemkey would like to bring together a group of Army couples to work on a house. Such activity “supports the soldier’s family and allows them to contribute as well.”
Donor groups are the mainstay of Habitat, from churches pledging money to businesses offering goods and expertise. Non-profit organizations provide financial backing which adds up to about $86,000 for one home. Wingate’s house was funded in part by the Fayetteville Regional Association of Realtors and Homes4NC.
Finally, there are sweat equity hours. Five hundred hours of work are performed by every Habitat family. Extended family may contribute work hours. Children can participate, earning hours for good grades and exceptional recognition at school. It’s an important feature of the program that expands the family’s personal investment in their home.
Director Griffin shared that Habitat for Humanity cures a problem by taking people from living in a tax cost situation to a tax pay situation. Most applicants receive some kind of assistance or are in some form of public housing (tax cost). With viable home ownership earned through their own sweat and financial contributions, they become taxpaying homeowners. Mortgage payments go directly to Habitat to help finance the next build.
It’s a waterfall effect. People secure in their own homes no longer spend time or worry on housing. They then have more to spend improving their lives with quality family time and improving their future.
A favorite story of Griffin's is of a young man who recalled being eight-years-old, cleaning up rocks and litter from the worksite of his soon-to-be home. Because of the stability and security the families’ new home provided, his mother went back to school. He and his brother both finished their educations. Today that eight-year-old boy is now a man, has two advanced degrees and works in banking.
Frances Wingate completed her 500 hours. Now her budget-friendly payments, along with those of fellow homeowners, will provide funds for others longing for homeownership. They will be taxpayers, maintaining their homes with a fierce pride, beautifying Fayetteville. They will build strong families, continue education and achieve success. Volunteers who worked on her house have the satisfaction that comes with doing something good. It’s a win/win situation.
On the day of her home’s dedication, members of Habitat for Humanity’s Board of Directors, staff and volunteers along with friends and family gathered on Frances Wingate’s new porch. Before they went inside to cut the cake, Wingate clutched her flag and raised her hand high.
"Thanks and glory to God for allowing me to get this and to get the strength and ability to do this and to get the strength and ability to do this. I thank everybody and the Board of Realtors who had a hand in granting that money. And I thank each and every one for their part in making my dream come true.”