Monday, 02 March 2015 00:52

Habitat for Humanity: Gifting Hope One Home at a Time

Written by  Mandy Pascal
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Everyone--all of us, every last person on God’s earth--deserves decent shelter. It speaks to the most basic of human needs --our home--the soil from which all of us,mevery last person, either blossom or wither.  We each have need of food, clothing, education, medical care and companionship; but first, we must have a place to live and grow. (Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity)



Montgomery’s Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1987 and has experienced tremendous success.  The organization has been able to help more than 80 families since it was founded.  On average, Montgomery’s Habitat for Humanity is able to help 5-8 families per year, a number they hope to see increase to double digits in the near future.



Misconceptions Explained

There are two very common misconceptions about Habitat for Humanity.  The first of which is, President Jimmy Carter is the person who started Habitat for Humanity.  Although he is the most famous public face for the organization, he is not the person who founded it. Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit housing organization that was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller.  Since its founding date, Habitat for Humanity has been able to build more than 800,000 houses and reach out and help more than 4 million people worldwide.


The second misconception about Habitat for Humanity is homes are just given away.  This could not be farther from the truth.  Habitat for Humanity is a home purchasing program that works with lower income families to prequalify them to purchase their own home at a zero percent interest mortgage rate. 


“Habitat is a hand up, not a handout,” said Nick Mielke, Executive Director of Montgomery’s Habitat for Humanity.  “It is not something that is just being given away.  The families are working for it and earning it along the way.”



How Families Qualify

In order for a family to qualify for participation in Habitat for Humanity, there are several factors they must meet. They must have been a resident of Montgomery for the past 12 months.  This cuts down on people from other areas encroaching on the families right here in our own town who need the help just as bad.  Secondly, they must meet the minimum amount of people living in the household, but not exceed the maximum amount based on an income guideline chart that comes from the Housing and Urban Development Division.  Finally, anyone wanting to participate in the program cannot currently own their own home. 


Quarterly orientation sessions are held where Nick Mielke gives an hour long presentation explaining everything anyone could want to know about the program.  At the end of the presentation, everyone who is interested is given an application for participation.  The families have one month to complete the application before they turn it back in for review.  The majority of the Habitat for Humanity homeowners do not qualify for participation the first time they apply.  Fortunately, they are able to reapply after a year.  This gives them time to sort out all of the things they need to in order to be eligible the next time they wish to apply.  The applicants who make it through the first round of review then receive a letter requesting a credit and criminal background check.  Once the background checks are complete, a family selection committee member then goes to meet with the families in their own house in order to get a more realistic feel for what type of situation the families are in.  The final step of the process is to be approved by the board of directors.  Habitat for Humanity is an equal housing opportunity organization, so it is important that any discrimination remains left out of the selection process.  In order to do this, an anonymous list is presented to the board of directors explaining the situations the families are in without revealing their identities.  The board of directors then selects who they feel could benefit most from the program at that time.


Now, once families qualify for the program, they are not just given a home right away.  They have to pay $100 per month for the first 12 months they are in the program.  This money will all be set aside and saved for their closing costs.  The families must put in 400 “sweat equity hours,” which are essentially volunteer hours.  They will be required to work not only on their own homes, but also on other ongoing projects in the area.  Participating families are also required to participate in an educational program.  In this program, they will spend time in financial literacy classes, which are designed to help them improve their budgeting skills and manage their own personal funds.  Most people who are in the program have never owned their own home before.  Because of this, most families do not know the basic maintenance skills required to own a home, so the program provides home ownership classes for the families.


If families have safe and secure housing, statistics show that kids do better in school and have better health.  The children are not the only ones who benefit from safe housing, parents do as well.  If they do not have to worry about having a safe and secure place to stay, parents are able to focus their efforts more on improving the situation they find themselves in. 

“We want this to be one less thing they have to worry about,” said Mielke.  “We want them to be able to focus on the dreams that they have for their family and the opportunities that they have for their children and for themselves.”


There are two types of houses that are built for the families participating in the Habitat for Humanity program.  New home construction and house rehab projects.  New home construction is exactly what it sounds like, a brand new house built from the ground up.  Although it is very nice, it is also very time consuming and tends to cost a lot more.  House rehab projects have become a very valuable asset, because it usually costs much less than building a new home and the turn around time is much faster.  House rehab projects are when homes that are not currently occupied are donated and then made like new. 



Getting Involved

Habitat for Humanity is run solely on fundraisers and sponsorships. If it weren’t for the willing participation of the community, the organization would not be where it is today.  Becoming involved is very simple.  You can either get a group together to volunteer, or simply donate a little of your own time.  If construction is not really your thing, Habitat for Humanity also has a discount home goods and supply store located at 2216 East South Boulevard, which is always looking for volunteers.  Habitat for Humanity is open Monday-Friday from 8 am to 5 pm, and can be reached at 334-832-9313. 



Mandy Pascal is a graduate of Troy University with a degree in Print Journalism.




Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2015 00:58
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