A Hand Up

Facing Hope in Rome, Georgia

Our eldest daughter came to live with us, bringing our grandchildren and a suitcase of hopes and dreams along with her. She was looking to start her life over, and part of that involved finding a good home where she could raise her children. Not that our home was a bad place, mind you—we had love enough to go around, but the house we shared was an old one. My husband and I had paid off our home, but there were so many repairs needed. It seemed like no matter what we did, once we finished one repair, another problem would surface; if we fixed the floor, a hole would form in the wall. We needed a new roof, a new laundry room, and more than one bathroom. It was heartbreaking to not be able to give the ones we loved a safe home.

Then eldest daughter applied for Habitat for Humanity. That’s how we found out about it, and decided that we would apply to them as well. Habitat put us on a list to go to a series of meetings before we could even get in to see the selection board. None of those meetings could be missed or we would be automatically put back on the waiting list, but I can tell you that we would have not missed those meetings for anything—we are not the kind of people that give up very easily.

I brought a suitcase of my own to that selection board meeting. It was filled with the records we had kept of all the repairs and all the receipts of payments that had been made on the house. You see, my husband and I had dreams as well. We wanted a good home that we could feel safe in, one that we could walk through and know there were no rotting floors or holes in the wall. We wanted a place where our grandchildren could have rooms of their own. Our two daughters and their children were living with us, so there were eight of us sharing one bathroom. We also had a live-in nurse, so you can see we had a full house.

We showed them that we had done everything we possibly could to make that old house livable, and that it was still not up to livable standards. Above all, we came in there completely honest and open because we wanted them to see how hard we were trying. It was so hard for us to ask for help, and we told them that. We needed their help above all else. I think that they did see our earnest effort, because it wasn’t long before they contacted us with the good news that we had been selected.

It took us four months to build our home. We were very involved with the process. Not just putting in the required hours of Sweat Equity, but going out there beyond what was required of us. It was important to us to not only meet the 300 hours of Sweat Equity required of a married couple but to go beyond that. In order to get something, you have to work for it. We did this despite both being disabled and having a number of health problems because we are not the kind of people to give up.

We got to meet so many people: students from the local colleges Berry and Georgia Highlands, a caravan of husbands and wives going around the country helping to build houses, just so many positive people. We never ran out of volunteers, and we try to keep in contact with them all. We have a record of our work, from start to finish, and the names of everyone who helped us. That’s our history.

One thing I like about Habitat is that it is religious based. It’s a ministry. I feel that puts us in a positive environment and around positive people. We continue to help out with Habitat as volunteers, but not as much as we would like. I think you need to give back, because somebody chose to give to you first. Habitat does not ‘give’ you a home. The home is sold to you but at no profit and with no interest. You work for that home—you put in Sweat Equity, and if you don’t make your payments, you lose the house. The house is not ‘free’. You have to keep your end of the partnership. We were not given a ‘hand out’ but a ‘hand up’.

Can you imagine what it was like for us that first night? That new home smell, fresh and cut and painted, the wood bright and sharp as if it had just been taken from the tree. We look at our new home with its cream-and-black exterior and can think back to the very first plank and nail that was laid down. This house is not only our home, but a home that we helped to build.

It’s a beautiful home. It is.

-As told to Amanda Brendel, Student Writer

This story originally appeared in Facing Hope, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

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