After temporarily living in several locations over the past year, Lee G. Sims and her three children finally have a place to call home. Having applied for a Habitat residence when she was living in a run-down, bug infested apartment, she initially was put on a waiting list before receiving the answer to her prayers.
“One day, I just got the call that we were approved for a Habitat [home] and that was in February of this year,” Sims said. “Then every Saturday from that time I’ve been coming here. From the time the foundation was laid all the way till [the dedication], I’ve been helping them [build] this house. [When I found out we were selected], I just couldn’t believe it. It was really a trying time in my life because I was going through a separation with my husband … and I knew that with my income it was going to be a struggle. So right around that time I [was] worried about it and I’d been praying.
“… It was just like an answered prayer because that’s what I really needed. … It means a lot to us because my kids are basically tired of moving around. We’ve lived in this community for a year and a half, and they [have] already adapted to the school system and the area. And they would just like, like I said, just a little bit of stability. It’s exciting for us to own a home, period, and then it provides stability, a place that we really can call home.”
While Sims is settling into her Habitat home, her next-door neighbor Jacces Chatmon is anxiously awaiting her residence’s dedication ceremony this week.
“Now that we’re building it, my son wants to go every day to see the house,” said Chatmon, who will be residing in the residence with her 9-year-old twins. “It’s an opportunity for them to have a definite place to live. … Yes, it is [an exciting time for us]. I keep saying, ‘Oh, by this time next week I’ll be in my house.’ So yes, I’m real excited.
“I would like to thank [Habitat and the volunteers] very much from the bottom of my heart because they gave us an opportunity to have something that we could call our own. And for the volunteers, I really appreciate what they’ve done. I had a lot of volunteers come every week to help me and my family, and I really would like to thank them for that.”
Under the supervision of general contractor Don Liotta with Outside the Box Construction, the Habitat three-bedroom homes were constructed simultaneously since March.
“We’re working on them basically at the same time because we had different groups that were coming in,” said Robin Hooker, president of the local Habitat for Humanity. “Anheuser-Busch was one of our main sponsors for these houses as well as Wells Fargo and the Community Development Block grant.
“So we had different groups of people coming in at different times, and it worked out perfect having both houses going at the same time,” she said, adding the projects also were bolstered by a Lowe’s Women Build in May and volunteers from the Bartow Area Board of Realtors. “… It was a challenge but it was lots of fun. The community was great to come together to help us build these homes. We’ve had so much participation from our volunteers through building both houses.”
Since forming in 1984, Bartow Area Habitat for Humanity has constructed about 45 residences. An average of 150 people apply each year, with 10 percent of their applications being further reviewed.
“There are tremendous amounts of people that are in the Bartow County area that are currently living in substandard housing,” Hooker told The Daily Tribune News prior to a Homeowner Orientation meeting in 2012. “And, of course, with Habitat our main goal is to help end homelessness [and] substandard housing. That’s our major goal — to really affect the lives of families with children or without children, to really make a difference in our community.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for someone to apply for a Habitat house and actually be chosen. It’s a godsend. ... It’s a very emotional experience for them because before they applied for a Habitat for Humanity house or before they were chosen, they never anticipated ever being able to move forward in their lives to the next level. And that’s what Habitat actually allows them to do, is to actually be a homeowner.”
To be approved, applicants need to satisfy various requirements, such as meeting income guidelines, living or working in Bartow County for at least one year, contributing at least 450 hours in their home’s construction and being able to pay for their residence. Valued about $140,000, the nonprofit’s homes are sold for about $80,000. House payments issued by Habitat range from $400 to $450 a month, which includes taxes and insurance.
“It’s always a joy for us with Habitat, especially the employees,” Hooker said. “Kathy [Stringer, administrative assistant for Bartow Area Habitat for Humanity] and I get to see the day in, day out, from the beginning of the application process to the very end of the dedication. It’s really exciting for us because we get to hear the first expression of how they feel about it and then we get to see the tears that they have at the very end.
“That’s one of the most rewarding parts is being able to make that initial phone call to the fact of ‘you’re receiving a Habitat for Humanity house’ to the very end of turning over the keys to them. It is a very rewarding experience for us.”
Echoing Chatmon’s comments, Sims also wanted to extend thanks to the Habitat organization and its volunteers.
“Even [at the] dedication, I just wanted [everyone to know] I am so appreciative for those volunteers because they really don’t have to be there to help,” Sims said. “They take ... the time every Saturday coming [to] help out of their busy lives. I’m just so appreciative. It’s just amazing to me and overwhelming that they would take their time out to help somebody else.
“I just want to say that I truly appreciate their time and the effort. And they did it with such enthusiasm. [It] wasn’t like they didn’t want to be there. It was just great. ... I encourage other people to just really volunteer with Habitat because there is the need for us to continue to have volunteers and to help the community, to just show what kind of community we really live in.”
For more information about Habitat, contact Hooker at 770-382-6293 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.