Building spirit - and housing

Goal: Two years after its founding, the county chapter of Habitat for Humanity is about to make its dream a reality with its first home.

July 06, 2001|By Diane Reynolds | Diane Reynolds,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many people are aware of the lack of affordable housing in Howard County. Some, like Vicky Green, are tackling the problem head on.

Green, co-founder and president of the Howard chapter of Habitat for Humanity, has worked for two years to turn a vision of affordable housing into reality.

"I was really convicted by God to say that this needs to be done," Green said of Habitat. "If there needs to be change, I've always been a person to do something about it. It's really sad that good people have to leave the county because they just can't afford it."

Since June 6, 1999, when the Howard County Habitat founders first met at Swansfield Elementary School, the dream has materialized. Last week, the chapter closed on the $55,000 lot on which it will soon build its first house. On Saturday, the chapter sponsored Hab- ifest 2001, a 4K run/walk at Centennial Park to raise funds.

Despite the brutal heat and humidity last weekend, scores of runners, walkers and participants attended Habifest. They attested to the religious underpinnings of Habitat for Humanity.

"Faith is part of its foundation," said guest speaker Denise Koch, WJZ-TV co-anchor and a member of Howard County Habitat.

"We give God the ultimate, almighty praise," said board member Eileen Powell of Christ National Ministries. " ... There are a lot of people hurting in overcrowded conditions. Everyone wants to feel they have a piece of the land. When a man can work in his own yard, a woman cook in her own kitchen ... you get a sense of dignity. God says the Earth is mine ... and every man should have a piece of land."

Green said Habitat offers a "hand up, not a handout." Recipients of houses put in "sweat equity" by helping with the building. They also pay back a no-interest loan. At Habifest, the 11-member Crone family, which will receive the first house, expressed thanks.

Green, who met the Crones through home-schooling, encouraged them to apply for the house, which is to be built on a lot across from Atholton High School.

"Since this started, I've never worried about money," she said. "I believe God has called us to do this, and when he calls you to do something, he provides the money. We haven't tapped into everybody."

"The corporations have been beautiful ... and the stores have come forward," Powell said. "The churches, they're coming slowly, but God's moving. We want to get the churches shook up to come out and join us."

At Habifest, the Rev. William Shiflet Jr. of St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City presented the chapter with a check for $21,000, which was raised from the church's annual Building for Others auction.

"We've always been interested in supporting causes at a local level, as well as internationally and regionally," said Susan Carlson, head of the St. John's outreach commission. "We really learned about it [Habitat] from the ground up."

John Little, a church member, serves on the local Habitat board, Carlson said.

"I imagine we'll have a significant contingent of weekend warriors," she said. "That's the fun part."

Powell wants to involve Asian and Latino churches in future Habitat efforts.

"We have very diverse people in this county, and they should be represented," she said. "That's a must. ... Jesus went to everyone. He took care of the need. That's what I'm about; this is doing God's will. We want to wipe out the stigma of poverty housing in this county and this nation."

For Charles Major, a Habitat volunteer who once lived at the Grassroots shelter, finding housing in Howard County "is not easy." Habitat is a "godsend," he said. "It raises my spirits a little bit to see a family ... get a home."

Green, the Howard Habitat co-founder, said: "The Lord has me start things. ... It's like the Marines. They're the first to storm the beach and hold it until reinforcements come. If you don't do what God has called you to do, the rest is meaningless."

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