Habitat for Humanity, started in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, provides affordable housing to struggling families. Millard, a self-made millionaire by the age of 29, found his personal life crumbling before his eyes, despite his apparent success in the business world. After serious thought, he recommitted his life to the Lord and took some drastic steps. He and his wife sold their possessions, gave their money to the poor, and began a minimalist life.
In 1973, Mr. Fuller, his wife, and their four children moved to Zaire to test, what would become, Habitat’s housing model. Their vision was to build houses at no profit and offer no-interest loans to homeowners. But, homeowners, wouldn’t just receive a home. They would be required to put in “sweat equity” by not only helping with the construction of their own home but also with the building of other Habitat structures.
Mr. Fuller’s housing model was so successful that he returned to the United States in 1976, and founded Habitat for Humanity. Today, Habitat for Humanity is responsible for building more than 500,000 houses and sheltering 2.5 million people worldwide.
You might be wondering how Habitat for Humanity works in the “real world.” I had the opportunity to chat with Kishia James, a member of the Habitat for Humanity Montgomery County family for the past two years. Over five years ago, a friend suggested that Kishia look into Habitat’s program; but it wasn’t until 2010, that she began seriously researching it. After attending an information gathering session (the only meeting not cancelled due to a sudden snowstorm!), she turned in all the necessary documents to begin the Habitat screening process. It turned out that she was the perfect candidate for the program! The apartment she shared with her mother and baby daughter was over thirty years old and in desperate need of repair. Habitat for Humanity quickly deemed it unsafe due to the mold infestation and the non-existent insulation, that left her with outrageously high electricity bills.
Once Habitat selected her family for housing assistance, they purchased a foreclosed home in a great neighborhood for her. But, they didn’t just hand over the keys and move on to the next case. Instead, she attended Habitat classes that ranged in topic from simple home repair taught by Home Depot experts to the “how-to’s” of making savvy money choices. And, she was kept busy putting those home improvement lessons to good use, as she helped renovate her new home, doing everything from painting to pulling up old carpet. She still shudders at how tedious it was to remove every tack strip/staple from the floor, before they could laid down new carpet. But, it was all that “sweat equity” that made move-in day so special!
For their part, Habitat for Humanity installed energy-efficient windows, top-of-the-line insulation, a fence, and many other amenities to make Kishia feel at home. And, with the money she is saving from a no-interest loan, Kishia is building her three-year old daughter’s college fund. As we spoke, she reiterated her gratitude for Habitat for Humanity’s help in providing her daughter with a safe environment, and says she truly hopes to sponsor a family someday.
October 2012 marks 30 years that Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County has been helping people like Kishia. When asked what Habitat for Humanity’s most important contribution has been, John Paukstis, their executive director, said, “I can’t imagine anything better than transforming the lives of people who are in sub-standard living conditions by providing them with decent, affordable, and energy-efficient homes.” Their latest project is building the Maple Hill subdivision, which will provide 19 families in the Montgomery County area with a new townhome in Gaithersburg, MD.
In order to help pay for these humanitarian building efforts, Habitat for Humanity has started ReStores throughout the country. ReStores, discount home improvement centers, are solely dependent on donations and are a paradise for homeowners on a budget. My husband loves perusing the ReStore in Purcellville, VA, where many contractors discard their unused building supplies and no-longer-needed, state-of-the-art appliances from model homes.
And, from what I’ve heard, the ReStore in Montgomery County is even more fabulous and offers a huge selection of new and gently used furniture, antiques, appliances, and building supplies. Even better? They have weekly sales! Just follow them on Facebook to keep up with their weekly discounts. Their 5th Annual Holiday Shoppe, your one-stop discount shop for all your Christmas decorations, is coming very soon, and I’ll be sure to post more details as it gets closer!
If you’re planning to throw out some gently used furniture or appliances, please consider donating it to your local ReStore. For those of you who live in Montgomery County, they will be happy to pick up your donations. And, all ReStores are very grateful for those who can volunteer a few hours. If you live in the DC Metro area, be sure to visit their website to find a ReStore near you. By donating, shopping, or volunteering, you can be a part of Habitat for Humanity’s efforts to transform lives!