House-raising Shows That Humanity Still Dwells Nearby

Habitat Group Installs New Home For Fire Victims

October 14, 1990|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

Steadily, slowly, a 75-foot crane lowers the back half of a modular house onto a foundation on Annapolis Neck Road.

With one end sagging, insulation hanging out of the roof and closets and rooms in full view, the home dangles precariously from steel cables.

"I've never seen anything like it," says Ellen Johnson, 71. "I'll be glad when they get this thing together."

Johnson and her husband of 34 years, Howard, 74, will move into the house next month. They've been living with a relative next door since their home burned last December, 10 days before Christmas. Johnson barely had time to rescue a young girl she was looking after before the home that had been in her family for three generations went up in flames. The family's personal belongings were destroyed. The house wasn't insured.

"It was terrible," Johnson said. "But I can't complain, because people have been so nice."

In April, Arundel Habitat for Humanity began working with the Johnsons.

The group, an affiliate of a Georgia-based ecumenical ministry that helps poor people build and rehabilitate homes, had its job made easier when a St. Margarets family donated a house.

Habitat volunteers, along with friends and relatives of the Johnsons, spent a month building a foundation with donated materials. It was ready in time for the home to be lowered into place last Wednesday. Because of the donated home, labor and materials, the Johnsons will pay about $100 a month over 10 years for their new home.

"You're looking at a miracle," said Johnson's son, Ben Kirby, 46. "They didn't have no way to put up a new house, and along come this group of people who say, 'We got a house for you.' It's unbelievable."

The Johnson's home is the second to be built by Arundel Habitat. The first home was built for a Glen Burnie family last year.

Builder Mel Merritt of Severna Park, one of the most active members of Arundel Habitat, said that when the group has built 10 homes, it will be able to build one new home a year with the payments from the other homes.

In the meantime, the 400-member organization is dependent on donations of money, labor and materials. It has raised about $75,000 so far.

Merritt, 39, a member of Severna Park United Methodist Church, has spent one week a year for the last 10 years helping families in Appalachia rehabilitate their homes, working with a program called the Appalachian Service Project. When he heard Habitat for Humanity was forming a group in Anne Arundel County, he was one of the first to join.

"For me, it's what Christianity stands for," said Merritt, wearing a red T-shirt that said, "All of God's people should have at least a simple, decent place to live."

"Most Christians don't realize the reward involved, so they don't go out of their way to find this sort of thing," he said. "I enjoy building for people in need more than people who pay me."

Habitat asks the people who are getting the home to help build it and requires them to maintain it. This makes them partners in the venture, Merritt said, and raises awareness of the need for housing.

"It's just incredible the number of people in this country living on the streets or in shacks," Merritt said. "The need is great."

Howard Johnson, a retired construction worker, was in the hospital and doctors wouldn't let him out, so he got many friends and relatives to help build the foundation and put the house in place. "This is great," Merritt said. "We normally don't get this much help."

By midafternoon last Wednesday, the front half of the green modular home was lowered into place. The home was looking ragged from several months of sitting outside in two pieces, but after volunteers renovate the interior and add a new roof, siding and porches, it will look better than before.

For Merritt, the day brought a good feeling. For the Johnsons, the day brought a new home in front of their mailbox on Annapolis Neck Road.

"This Christmas will be a happy one," Ellen Johnson said.

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