Holding hands, they sit at a round table surrounded by their families and Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Several meetings, hard work and focused efforts have all lead to this moment. Sweaty palms, anxiety, maybe even a nervous stomach are what the families are experiencing.
This meeting is unlike any other. It’s the final meeting that concludes with anticipation as it is announced that their efforts were not in vain. Their families will have something that in their lifetime they were not able to have up until now – a home.
“A lot of our families come into our program. No one in their entire family history has ever owned a home. Imagine that, and so for the first time they are changing their families’ history,” Hannah Walker, director of family services, said.
Habitat for Humanity is an organization that provides families that have a low-income with a home as well as tries to eliminate substandard housing. Although it may seem as if poverty is something that only affects third-world countries, it is taking place right here.
“You think it’s 2008, and people don’t live like this, but they do. We had a homeowner who used to leave huge drums out in her yard so she could catch rain so that she could wash her clothes and flush her toilet. We had another homeowner who put her bathtub in her kitchen because that was the only place where she had running water. These are the people who live in Smith County,” said Walker.
The families attend several meetings in which Habitat evaluates income and credit score. They follow up with a home visit, and if eligible, they are told they are going to be given a home.
The recipients are determined on three basic principles; their need, ability to pay, and willingness to partner. These homes have no down payment or interest. The only down payment is that they must put in at least 350 to 500 hours of volunteer work before they can even begin building their own home.
The recipients of these homes are not the only ones involved; volunteers are considered the backbone of Habitat. Some of the volunteers involved are part of an organization called the Women Build. The group was started by Habitat International and has been in Smith County for over 10 years.
“The primary focus of Women Build is to include women not to exclude men. It’s about empowering women to step out of their normal functions and learn a new skill and then also uniting women in ending poverty housing,” said Walker.
“It just changed my life,” said Margo Ballew, a volunteer of Habitat for Humanity. “I had a neighbor who got me involved she said you need to come out and see the walls being raised. So I went out and watched the entire walls of a house go up in one day, the whole frame. It was unbelievable. The most exciting thing I had ever seen.”
Many feel like they gain more than just sense of pride by working with Habitat.
“They see something tangible. That’s one of the key things about Habitat. They walk away with something tangible. It’s not just like you gave away money and you hope that someday something good will come of it. You actually see what you did, and it’s permanent. And you can go back to that house 20 years and what you worked on is still there,” said Walker.
Many home recipients even feel empowered despite their current situation.
“I realized these people all want the same thing. They’re doing this willing. Their hearts are in it, it is over whelming. God has love in all these people that have come out here. It’s not just for show and tell,” said Lindsey Wall, a recent chosen recipient for a new home.
The volunteers were laying down grass and painting the inside of the new home for the Arias family.
The Arias family consists of David, Mirna, Jennifer and Josh. Mirna was told by a boss about Habitat for Humanity.
“I believe this is a blessing because we have tried to get a home like three times, and then we just believe in people and trust people, but people aren’t really honest with us,” said Mirna Arias, a new recipient of a Habitat home. “I know we are in God’s bliss.”
Mrs. Arias also mentioned that her family had received many bad deals but knows that God has a plan for her family. She trusts that Habitat will affect her family positively. Organizers said a Habitat home may have long-lasting effects for the recipients.
“Just a tendency for Habitat families once their families get into a Habitat home and have a stable living environment, their kids tend to move on and pursue college. That’s a given, studied fact with any habitat families across the nation and even in the world,” said Walker.
The son and daughter of the Arias family felt as if school would become easier for them.
“I’d have to worry less about moving so much and helping my parents pay bills or the rent,” said Josh Arias, 13.
Habitat for Humanity has already finished building the Arias’ new home. The Women Build will continue with future homes including the Wall house on Oct. 4.