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Stanly County Habitat for Humanity celebrates 30th anniversary

More than 50 houses later, Habitat for Humanity celebrated its 30th anniversary during 2018 doing what its always done: helping families buy affordable housing.

Habitat for Humanity International was established in 1976, and in 1988 the Stanly County Habitat for Humanity was born.

According to Executive Director Cemita Gibbs, the Stanly affiliate was created by the Rev. Justin Hill and Amy Brown.

Gibbs is not in contact with Brown, but she did reach him via email. Hill celebrated the construction of Stanly’s 50th Habitat house this year.

In his email to Gibbs, Hill recalled when he first became interested in starting a local Habitat affiliate.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, worked on a Habitat house in Americus, Georgia. In 1984, according to Habitat.org. They formed a partnership with Habitat soon after that.

“President Carter came to speak at a rally in Charlotte in 1986 and inspired a group of us in Stanly County who attended to call a meeting of interested citizens to consider forming an affiliate for Stanly County,” Hill wrote. “That same year, (Habitat for Humanity) celebrated its 10th anniversary with a 1,000-mile walk from Americus, Georgia to Kansas City, Missouri led by (founder) Millard Fuller and wife, Linda. Several of us joined in the walk when they passed through Charlotte and had the pleasure of meeting the Fullers.”

Hill, who Gibbs said was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Albemarle, held meetings at a Lutheran church before establishing the affiliate in 1988.

“Many loyal participants formed the first board and as funds came in we started our first homes after acquiring lots on Elizabeth Avenue,” Hill wrote. “Two mill homes were donated and (Habitat) paid for moving the homes to the sites.”

Hill recalled the extensive renovations of those first two houses, replacing the “wiring and plumbing, roofing, paint and siding,” he wrote.

After they were finished, Stanly Habitat used the lots behind those houses to construct three new houses on the current Martin Luther King Drive, he said.

“The years I spent with Stanly County Habitat were some of the most rewarding of my life,” Hill wrote.

According to Gibbs, Stanly Habitat’s first three homes were donated ones that Habitat renovated. Their first clients to move in were Eve and her daughter, Tristan Willoughby.

By 1991, Habitat had finished two more houses. Its 10th home for the Sieber family was completed in February 1999.

In 2000, Habitat International finished its 100,000th house in New York City. That same year, Stanly Habitat dedicated the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.

Until 2002, all positions were volunteer-only, Gibbs said. That changed when Stanly hired part-time executive director John Robertson. That same year, the Re-Store was moved to its current location on North Carolina Highway 24-27 West in Albemarle.

The year 2009 also marked a milestone for Stanly, when it began the first subdivision in Oakboro and began the first of five homes on Leonard Avenue in Albemarle, Gibbs said.

In 2017, Stanly closed on a house in Montgomery County, recognizing a need where there is no Habitat.

Stanly Habitat is also renovating the Re-Store and works with the Stanly County Department of Social Services’ Work First program and with an individual who has a work-training program.

Hill, who now lives in Florida, had the opportunity to visit in late July, meeting with the Habitat staff, Gibbs said.

Effect on the community

Today, Gibbs said Habitat has many volunteers, and has core groups of volunteers: the Tuesday Troopers and Wednesday Warriors, in addition to various volunteers who help on Saturdays. A school in Pennsylvania also sends students down during spring break for a week each year.

Habitat has performed small renovations, adding ramps and windows where needed, but the program is officially “on hold” at the moment since Habitat needs to grow a bit before the program is practical, Gibbs said. If a project does need completed, Habitat tries to connect the person who made the request with an organization that can help.

She hopes to see the number of volunteers grow

Recently, another family paid off its home. While Stanly Habitat typically uses 25-year mortgages, many families pay off their homes early, freeing up their income for other goals.

One family, the Richardsons, paid off a home in 18 years, well ahead of the 30-year mortgage. The Clark family paid theirs off in only 19 years out of their 30-year mortgage.

When families pay off a home, they can participate in a note-burning ceremony attended by friends, family and Habitat volunteers if they choose to, Gibbs said.

While many people tend to think of Habitat as free homes, Gibbs said it is a common misconception. The owners have lower house payments than average, freeing up their income, but they do have to pay, she said.

They also have to put in 400 hours of “sweat equity.” Of those, the first 100 hours are spent working on someone else’s home to show their work ethic and devotion. Another 150 hours are invested in working on their own home, and the remaining 50 hours are spent in classes on home maintenance, insurance or other topics Habitat thinks will help them succeed.

Sometimes, homeowners who aren’t skilled in construction or who are disabled support the builders by performing clean-up, doing whatever tasks they are able, Gibbs said. But the work also lets the volunteers and homeowners learn new skills they can apply to future Habitat homes or their own houses.

“We try to teach them a trade that they can use,” Gibbs said.

Stanly Habitat builds an average of three homes per year. Several families are normally in the process at once at varying stages. To keep their application active and get their hours in, families take an average of one class per month. Habitat pre-screens families to prevent frustration by having them go through the full application only to learn that they are ineligible for a house. The average wait time for a house is about two years, Gibbs said.

Habitat homeowners pay about $450 per month for the mortgage payment, taxes and insurance, Gibbs said. For some families, the 20- to 30-year mortgage is manageable, and for others the payments can be consistently exceeded.

“I think if they pay off early, it’s making a positive impact in their families because the children are seeing that their parents have really dedicated themselves to becoming a homeowner,” Gibbs said. “And they’re making a difference in the kids’ lives, I think, by showing them what it’s like to work hard.

“When people come in for budgeting, we try to explain to them, too, ‘Your home is the most important thing you pay for first,’ ” Gibbs added. “So to me, it just shows that some of our first homeowners that came in the program, the volunteers really did a good job, I think, expressing to them the priorities that they need to set up in their lives to make sure they have a home for their kids. To me, that makes a big difference. And of the families I’ve participated with since I’ve been here, putting these kids into a stable environment has made a difference in their participation in school and in their social life, as well.”

Habitat normally has a sponsor for each house. Churches can help deepen relationships within the church as the members fundraise and work on homes side-by-side.

The organization has about 15 total regular volunteers who help with Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with the Saturday volunteer list fluctuating per build. Gibbs hopes to create core groups to assist each day of the week.

Habitat’s 50th house was sponsored by First Baptist Church in Albemarle, the church Hill pastored when he founded the Stanly affiliate. The church donated $30,000 and provided volunteers for the house.

“It is so heartwarming to me to see how involved the churches have become,” Hill wrote in his email to Gibbs. “Especially meaningful to me is First Baptist’s involvement in this 50th home. I had the privilege of serving on the staff for 18 years before retiring and working with (Habitat). I want to congratulate the Pennington family for being the homeowners of number 50… Thanks to all who have helped to make it possible and may God continue to provide the means and volunteers to bless the lives of future homeowners.”

To learn more about serving with Stanly County Habitat for Humanity, call 704-985-1050.