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More Than A Home | By Cynthia Hawkins

Habitat for Humanity is not just about constructing houses with wood, brick and mortar; it’s also about strengthening families and establishing firm foundations. And that task requires big hearts, creative minds and able bodies.

As the executive director of Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity, Ann Griffin gathers and organizes local hearts, minds and bodies to accomplish the task of building homes for families who otherwise may never know the joy of home ownership.

“It’s a very exciting year for us,” says Griffin, “We are celebrating our 20th year, building our 100th house, along with five other houses currently under construction.”

When Griffin came on board in September 2006, she set about getting the Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity “house” in order. Now, with $2.7 million in mortgage receivables, the financial problems of the past seem to be behind the organization, and she is able to focus on helping people.

“Being able to put a family in a home brings me joy,” she says. “It literally breaks the cycle of poverty, allowing the family to start focusing on other things such as health care, dental care, education and other needs. They can start thinking about vacation, retirement — things that never even entered into their psyche.”

Griffin has seen families break out of the cycle of poverty and grow in ways they never dreamed possible. One young woman, Charnett Muhammed, is close to finishing her master’s in mental health counseling. Currently working in the mental health field, Muhammed says Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity changed her life.

“Before I got my home, I was living in the Fayetteville Housing Authority and depending on social services,” she said. “I had just graduated from Fayetteville Tech when I got my home in ‘98. Having my own home lifted my self-esteem. I was able to start achieving some goals in my life.”

Muhammed says it was a rewarding feeling to be a part of building her home — putting in the “sweat equity.”

But the best thing about owning a home, she said, is having something of value to hand down. “It’s a blessing to own a home that I will one day be able to pass on to my son.”

­Another success story is Linda McPherson, a high school teacher with two teenagers who moved into her house on Christmas Eve.

“Oh, my goodness, indescribable,” she says of the changes that have occurred in her life as a result of getting her new home. “I had nothing. Being a single mom with two teens and just trying to keep my kids on track. We struggled.”

During the time she was working to get the new home, her vibrant young son who had just entered college was stricken with cancer. A football player his entire life, he was forced to leave college during treatment and recovery. Now his mother says he is cancer-free and back at school.

Considering her struggles, McPherson maintains a positive attitude. While many homeowners groan about the difficulties and cost of upkeep in owning a home, she puts a positive spin on even the most unappealing tasks. The worst problem she’s faced as a homeowner? “Weeds and how to get rid of them,” she says. “There’s a difference when it’s your house. You take more pride. It’s a project, not a chore. I’m proud to be a homeowner.”

She says going home every day and knowing she has a place to go is one of the best feelings.

“I used to worry about whether the landlord would sell. I worried about the neighborhood and my kids being safe,” she says. “Here, I feel secure and everybody seems to be caring.”

The circle of care continues. The Habitat staff does not abandon the home-owner once they sign the contract and move in.

Home ownership, Griffin says, brings about a new level of responsibility. “We continue working with homeowners, teaching them how to budget and manage their finances.”

The late Monroe Evans, who was instrumental in bringing the Habitat program to Fayetteville, would be amazed that the work he began in 1988 has expanded from a couple of houses into three Habitat Villages. With tracts of land donated by the City of Fayetteville, Habitat was able to establish villages in Cedar Creek, Old Wilmington Road and Waddell Street. The City of Fayetteville is a major community partner through land donation and Community Development funding provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Building the houses in one area saves money by allowing for resource sharing,” Griffin says. “It’s more cost effective and efficient when the builders at one site can share tools, materials and manpower with a nearby site.”

And saving money is always a concern.

“The cost of building houses has gone up due to the rise in the cost of materials following Hurricane Katrina,” Griffin says. “It costs approximately $71,000 to build a Habitat home.”

Of course, volunteers play a major role in saving the organization money. Providing skill and services on their own time, volunteers are the lifeblood of Habitat for Humanity.

“All the people who come to Fort Bragg have already heard about Habitat, so they seek us out,” Griffin says. “We have a steady stream of volunteers from Fort Bragg, and of course, churches and civic organizations also send groups of volunteers.”

The Junior League of Fayetteville is sponsoring a house this year, and Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, who just finished their 10th house, is rehabilitating three others. Other major house sponsors this year include Haymount United Methodist Church, St. Patrick Catholic Church, Cargill, Fayetteville Home Builders Association, Fayetteville Area Board of Realtors, Fayetteville Mortgage Bankers Association and Fayetteville Technical Community College.

With the hope of breaking the cycle of poverty one family at a time, Griffin counts on these community commitments to make homeownership a reality for so many families in the area.