When you hit pause on life long enough to think about what you are thankful for, some of the things that cross your mind might be your family, a pet, season tickets for your favorite sports team, possibly a new car. However, time to time, a lot of us can neglect showing thanks for having the bare necessities in life – a roof over our head, food to eat, etc. For most, it is hard to view those necessities as luxuries, but for the many community members in Pope County waiting for affordable housing a home to call their own is a luxury.
In 2009, a group of locals came together with one mission in mind; help those waiting for affordable housing. With that, was the beginning of Habitat for Humanity (HFH) in Pope County.
It was after a mission trip that involved working with HFH that Lori Grace, president of HFH of Pope County, and member of the family selection and resource committees grew passionate about establishing a local affiliate of the organization. In December of 2011, the group was officially recognized as a branch of the worldwide organization.
According to their website, “Habitat for Humanity International is a global non-profit Christian housing organization that seeks to put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope. Habitat International has built 500,000 houses around the world for people with the need, ability to pay, and the willingness to partner with Habitat. What a phenomenon to be a part of; bringing our community together with people of diverse backgrounds, not just building houses, but building relationships and hope.” HFH currently builds in North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia, Asia and the Pacific.
In addition, Grace learned that there are “currently 333 men, women and children waiting for affordable housing in Pope County.”
One of the important committees involved with making HFH possible is the construction committee. “In 2009, I was reading the newspaper when I saw an article about Habitat for Humanity and Lori Grace,” said Bill Kistler, chair of the construction committee for the local affiliate. “It was an organization I had always been interested in, I knew Lori, and things just kind of went from there.”
HFH does not use houses needing repairs, but only builds homes from the ground up, taking anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete the entire process. To date, the group has completed one home, which was in 2012 and “sold for” $80,000. “Our goal was to build a house a year, but last year’s house ended up falling through, so we are building two this year,” added Kistler.
It is obvious the organization is building more than just homes, but communities and friendship. “We saw the family that received the first home we built come a long way… together. Everything from how they interacted among themselves and with other people, it all changed. I continue to be involved with them. The kid’s schoolwork even improved. ” recalled Kistler.
Because every family is different, HFH allows recipients to choose from several varying house plans. The customization does not stop there, though. The future homeowners can select everything from paint colors, tile, to the color of the siding on the home. Recipients must go through an application process, which can be found on HFH’s website (www.hfhpca.org). “The houses are not free, but are interest free,” said Kistler. A requirement is that the recipient must be employed. >>
All monies paid for the home goes toward building the next home. “Beginning in August, we will be taking pre-applications again,” Kistler added.
House payments are not the only investment made by the recipient. During construction, the selected applicant is also required to put in 300 hours of what is called “sweat equity,” meaning they are required to help construct the home and learn how to care for a house. Often, the chosen family has never owned a home, however, around 100 hours of the sweat equity is learning how to maintain a house and tips on budgeting with homeowner education courses. The other 200 hours are on-site physical labor. If the recipient cannot manage all 300 hours alone, family members and friends can also help obtain the hours.
When it comes to the materials being used in construction, “Habitat for Humanity has been blessed by the community,” said Kistler. All of the money and materials come straight from “local dollars,” he said, meaning monetary donations and the donation of items needed to build the home.
Some of the aid received includes, but is not limited to a $25,000 grant from Dow Chemical, $10,000 from Arkansas Nuclear One, donated paint from Sherwin-Williams, tile from Acme Brick, an ongoing discount with Ridout Lumber and lunch is often provided by a local business on days they work. Fundraisers have included golf tournaments raising more than $10,000, Stoby’s pancake breakfasts, a 5k run and Ruby Tuesday, Chick-fil-A and Atwoods allowing HFH to fundraise with them.
Kistler said that the materials they use are never used materials, and he goes by the policy that if he would not do it or use it to his home, he is not using it or doing it to the recipient’s. Energy efficient windows and quality insulation are both used to help keep utility costs low.
Kistler believes HFH is not only impacting those getting the homes, but the people working on them; there is power in a diverse group of people coming together for one purpose. Furthermore, the homes are located on the corner of 6th Street and Ithaca, and “many people from the neighborhood are glad to see the vacant lots gone,” said Kistler. Before the construction began on the first home, a block party was held in order to spread the word, which helped unify and build community, according to Kistler.
For Kistler, interaction with the families and seeing the growth they encounter are the most rewarding parts of being involved.
While HFH is not lacking passion or purpose, they do have a shortage of volunteers. When they started in 2012, nearly 250 people filled out forms with intentions of becoming involved. Currently, they have around 12 to 15 consistent volunteers. While that number sounds startling and low considering what they continue to produce, that number and the time each person can give is split between the two homes in construction. A majority of the building takes place on Fridays and Saturdays in hopes that those days accommodate the demanding schedules most people have.
Dr. Bob Williams, volunteer for HFH of Pope County, had his first encounter with HFH when working on a home in the Gulf of Mexico, an inspiring start similar to Grace. Despite HFH being an international organization, for Williams, volunteering his time is a “great way to help your own locals.” “It is so great working around people who want to be there,” added Williams.
When asked about giving his time to HFH, Kistler said “I have met a lot of people that I never would have never known, many different types of people. It is neat seeing people come together that may have never met.”
To get involved, you can visit their website and find the volunteer forms under “apply.” No matter your industry or background, there is something for everyone to do and value to be added. Regardless of how much time you can commit, Kistler stressed that they will be thankful for whatever time can be given.
If you or someone you know would like to donate, volunteer or know someone in need of an opportunity like HFH, the organization can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 479-280-3728. More for information, visit the website , www.hfhpca.org.