By Mary Ellen Slone
Across America, approximately 46,000,000 individuals live below the poverty line. Many of them exist in inadequate/substandard housing where overcrowding, insufficient wiring and plumbing, mold, and structural deficiencies are often apparent. Lexington is ‘home’ to many more such individuals and families than you may imagine.
The quest for home ownership, along with its benefits of personal safety and accomplishment, continues to top the wish lists of individuals and families worldwide. Locally, the not-for-profit Lexington Habitat for Humanity organization has deployed a dynamic, faith-based, community-supported initiative wherein more than 400 local families have proudly qualified to purchase and live in pristine new homes of their own.
Lexington Habitat for Humanity—Loving Its Neighbors!
“Habitat’s vision is that everyone should have a decent place to live,” Rachel Smith Childress, CEO of the Lexington affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International explains. “Over our three decades of ministry in Lexington, we have realized that ‘a decent place to live’ is much more than structures humans inhabit; required elements for peace-of-mind include safety, affordability, health, relationships, happiness, and hope.”
“We are proud of our remarkable success in offering that hope, in the form of home ownership, to local families. We serve the City of Lexington as a whole, our outreach touches many lives; not only those who are living in their first new home, but also the thousands of folks who have volunteered their time, talents, funds, encouragement and prayers to making these amazing families’ dreams come true,” Childress says.
Childress and her associate, Dana Stefaniak, recently provided a tour of neighborhoods where a myriad of local families now proudly own and reside in Habitat homes. As one after another of these pristine dwellings came into view, it became incredibly apparent that these structures are not ‘cookie-cutter’ dwelling places; they’re well-designed, cared for homes.
Since 1986, Habitat for Humanity has been at the epicenter of facilitating local families of varying compositions (singles, couples, partners, blended families, even grandparents with custody of youngsters) to achieve what previously may have been an impossible dream—home ownership. With guidance and support from this highly respected, non-profit organization, these applicants participate in extensive home ownership education classes, and—if they’re physically able to invest ‘sweat equity hours’—they work side-by-side with the Habitat volunteers as their new home is constructed.
Affordable shelter matters…it is the foundation through which families and communities learn to thrive within stable neighborhoods with newly constructed/decent housing. Home ownership is concurrently both the foundation and the ‘holy grail’ aspiration within which families, couples and singles strive to qualify to participate. Decent housing stabilizes neighborhoods; communities are enriched; and above all, lives are changed for the better through families having qualified for the purchase of a new home.
The “Love Your Neighbor” Program
The negative impact which these sub-par living conditions have on the emotional and physical well being of families within our city is incalculable. Our local Habitat for Humanity organization has committed itself to escalating its outreach through a Love Your Neighborhood Program. According to Ms. Childress, “Although a decent place to live includes structure and locale, it is much more. We are providing options for home ownership beyond the typical areas we have served over the years, but we are determined to not abandon those previous areas. In 2013, we began the’Love Your Neighborhood’ program, which provides clean-up projects, home preservation projects and critical home repairs. Partnering with the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, the Police Department and other public safety organizations, as well as long-term volunteers and donors, these projects are designed to ensure homes are safe, decent, and energy efficient (critical for affordability) and neighborhoods are well kept and cleared of trash and brush. It is amazing what a fence row cleared of brush does for visibility and thus, safety; not to mention the pride which comes to families when their neighborhoods are clean and attractive.”
Four Lexington Habitat for Humanity homeowners each proudly shares pride in ownership
Tenisha: A single woman with many goals, lots of energy, a ready and contagious smile, and 3 amazing children. A native of Lexington, she worked full time while earning her Bachelor’s degree, and actively participated in the building of her new Habitat home, which was funded through the 2014 Women’s Build project. Tenisha’s memorable comment: “I’ve learned so much through this entire adventure.
I feel like I can accomplish anything now!”
Mason: A single father and his four-year-old son Jordan: “I wanted to undertake this for my son—it’s not about me, it’s about him, and us having a place we can call home.” Mason never dreamed that he could live in a home with a yard, much less a home he OWNED. But, in the partnership with Lexington Habitat for Humanity, his hard work paid off. Through the generosity of the Pat Smith Endowment Fund, this dad and his son have a home to call their own, a yard where they can play, and hope for both of their futures!
Rita: A Grandmother’s Love
“God bless them for helping me to build a house for my family!” Rita smiles.
Rita is raising her two grandchildren in a Lexington Habitat home sponsored by Linkbelt™ She shared her gratitude, “I just still cannot believe that all of these people came out here for us, and they built this wonderful home. I’ll always remember every single one of those folk from Habitat and Linkbelt™, they’re amazing!
Rita is excited to have a safe, healthy place to call home, and she now sees opportunity for her and her grandkids’ futures.
Juan and Leticia: For years, Juan Cervantes tried (to no avail) to repair his 30-year-old trailer and make it more comfortable for his wife, Leticia, and their three children. In cold weather, frigid air swept through the thin walls and the floor, allowing precious heat to escape.
Looking back, Leticia recalls that she did the only thing she thought would help their family’s then near dire situation: She prayed. After learning about Lexington Habitat for Humanity, she met with Sarah, a family services coordinator, who confirmed that yes, the Cervantes family qualified to begin Lexington Habitat partner family education classes. They did just that, and quickly earned enough ‘sweat equity hours’ to select the lot on which would be built their first ever ‘real’ home. The Cervantes family was partnered with Lexmark™ in Lexington and construction began on their home in May of 2014. All of Cervantes family members worked alongside Lexmark™ employees and at the home dedication last Fall, they proudly received their keys. Recently, they joyfully celebrated Christmas in their new home.
A reoccurring phrase spoken by virtually all those whose lives have been dramatically changed by this undertaking is this: “Habitat for Humanity offers a hand up, not a hand out.” The opportunities for decent, affordable housing are in place; but the commitment to achieve the coveted goal takes time, faith, and courage.
The success of Lexington Habitat for Humanity typifies how best to propagate The American Dream. Please consider volunteering in some capacity where your time, talents and compassion will make a positive impact on the lives of many individuals and families. These are folks who deserve the opportunity to better themselves not only through the value of decent, affordable housing, but also the attendant joy which resonates from it.