WALLS OF LOVE: Smiles abound as Habitat dedicates new home

Published 7:08 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2019

By Michael Orlofsky

On what was once was an overgrown lot, now stands a spanking new home. Although modest and barely 1040 square feet, it is a dream come true for Lynn Johnson and her children. The dream would not have been possible without the real-world efforts of the Troy-Pike Habitat for Humanity and dozens of volunteers.

On Saturday, TPHFH dedicated its fifteenth house, and symbolically presented the keys of ownership to Johnson at a ribbon-cutting a ceremony at the site of the dwelling on Barron Road in Troy. The ceremony was attended by Johnson and her family and friends, members of TPHFH, representatives of the area businesses and clubs that donated to the project, and many of the volunteers who devoted time, effort, talent and not a few bumps and scratches to the house’s completion.

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Johnson was all smiles at the dedication. “I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “It’s been wonderful to see the construction from the ground up.

“I can’t stop cheesin,’” she added. “I have made a lot of friends.”

Karen Ross, TPHFH board member said, “Lynn’s willingness to partner with Habitat has been fantastic. She has worked very hard, every Saturday, building the house and getting her sweat equity in.  Her positive outlook and determination have been inspiring.”

At the dedication, Rev. Earvie Gandy, pastor of the Greater Troy Church of God, commented on Johnson’s sense of commitment and helpfulness. “I call her Jimmy Dandy,” Gandy said. “Whenever something needs to get done at the church, I ask Lynn and she’s ‘Jimmy Dandy to the rescue.’”

As an ongoing promise to Johnson in the hope and faith that she would quality for the house, Rev. Gandy’s wife, Ouida, said she would run down the street celebrating the completion of the project. And as promised, earlier in the week Ouida jogged along Barron Road from the Johnson house to Butter and Egg Road and back again.

Bringing the house to completion was a genuine community effort. Randy Leutzinger, TPHFH President said, “We appreciate all who have contributed to this home in any way—including prayer, financial support, and sweat and blood.”

According to Leutzinger, the mission of the local affiliate is straightforward: Habitat for Humanity was founded on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a simple, durable place to live in dignity and safety, and that decent shelter in decent communities should be a matter of conscience and action for all.

The current build started in August 2018 in the driveway of Dan Dawson, TPHFH board member and construction supervisor, involving workers assembling lumber into stud walls. Members of the Troy University women’s basketball and softball teams helped on that job. After the walls were completed, other workers transported the project to the construction site.

Dawson said that the design elements of the house are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, including wider doors, grab handles in the bathrooms, wheelchair accessible vanities, and wide radii around the master bath toilet. All future TPHFH houses will be ADA compliant as well. The house was designed by Dawson’s son, Caleb, and all aspects of the design met city building codes.

“Safety of our volunteers is our highest priority,” Dan Dawson said. “Second most important is the quality of our work from design, all the way through to the final finishing.”

Dawson continued, “We take the time and make the effort to do it right every time.”

At the build site, groups of volunteers raised the frame walls. Professional contractors prepared the house’s lot and concrete slab foundation, put in the septic system, installed the rough plumbing and electrical, and put on the roof. Professionals also installed the heating and cooling system.

However, TPHFH members and friends of Habitat—including Johnson, her friends and family—completed many other aspects of home construction. Students from Troy University also made significant and consistent labor and time commitments. They included fraternities and sororities, the AFROTC, the student Habitat club, the 101 Elite Men, and unaffiliated students who just wanted to offer a helping hand.

At other times, volunteers included local church groups, former Habitat board members, even individuals ordered to perform community service hours. Approximately 225 people worked on the house over the past ten months, said Ross, TPHFH Secretary. The ages of the volunteers ranged from 18 to former TPHFH president Gene Omasta’s 86 years.

In recognition of Habitat’s proactive involvement in the community, the affiliate earned the 2019 Excellence in Philanthropy through Nonprofit, presented by the Pike County Chamber of Commerce on May 6. Over the years, TPHFH has built 15 houses, providing decent housing for dozens of family members. Because of its rigorous and thorough family selection process, Leutzinger observed, no Habitat homeowner has defaulted on a mortgage—in fact, several Habitat homeowners have paid off their mortgages in full.

Every Saturday through the fall, winter, and early spring, workers gathered at the site to register, and listened to a training and job site safety lesson, then broke into work groups based on the day’s construction schedule. At high point of the day’s activities centered the lunch break, frequently provided by many of Troy’s restaurants or by one of the area church or civic groups—and on the rare Saturdays when the lunch wasn’t donated, TPHFH members went potluck with chili, gumbo, or “Mike famous hotdogs.”

Lunch always started with a blessing, which frequently summed up the purpose of the build and the commitment of the volunteers. Board member Ellis Bush said, “Habitat provides a way to show Christ’s love in a real and tangible way. It is a way to make a personal connection and a significate difference in the life of someone else in our community.”

According to the TPHFH website, Habitat’s mission is to work in partnership with people from all walks of life to develop communities where there are people in need by building and renovating houses to provide decent, affordable houses in decent communities.

Several community businesses made significant contributions to house raising. For the current build, TB&T made a generous financial contribution. Other businesses, such as Publix and Lowes also made contributions to the current or past projects. 

“The program is a perfect match between those serving and those being served,” said Jeff Kervin, President and CEO of TB&T.  “The support we give in the form of a donation, when combined with Habitat and the home owner, all work together to make a better community and we really want to be a part of efforts like this,” Kervin said.

Habitat generates its operating budget through outright grants from area businesses, mortgage income on existing houses, monetary contributions, and through fund-raising activities such as the annual holiday Giant Cookie Sale.

However, one persistent misconception about Habitat houses is that they are given away “free.” Nothing could be further from the truth, said Leutzinger. Individuals interested in pursuing a Habitat home must complete a lengthy application process, which includes proof of stable income and local residency, a credit check, letters of recommendation, and a home visit. If approved for a house, the future home owner assumes an interest-free mortgage based on the cost of the lot, building materials, and the mechanicals and their installation.

Additionally, designees are required to perform at least 200 hours of sweat equity on Habitat construction projects—either on their own project, or another Habitat home.

What is freely given is the volunteer labor, entailing jobs from hanging sheet rock on the ceilings to installing kitchen cabinets to putting wall plates on electrical outlets.  A priority for Habitat is to train newcomers in homebuilding skills with an eye toward carrying forward the knowledge and skills to new projects in new communities. It is an ongoing process.

“You are all superheroes,” Johnson said to the crowd.

And she couldn’t stop cheesin’.