After 25 years, Habitat remains true to mission
People shouldn’t have to worry about the conditions of their homes. Habitat for Humanity can provide peace of mind to the residents of the homes that organization builds.
Vincent Ylagen, a St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic School eighth-grader, expressed those feelings in an essay last month, observing with his school the Aiken County Habitat program’s 25th anniversary.
“The mission of Habitat for Humanity is to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope by seeking to put God’s love into action,” Vincent said.
Richard Church, Habitat’s executive director for the past 16 years, heard the young man’s words with appreciation at the assembly last month. About 90 homes have been built by volunteers in Aiken over the past quarter-century.
Church has a bucket list and one item is to build that 100th house for families who are struggling, who cannot afford to own a home. In his own earlier career, he has seen such issues throughout the world and in this country, the same issues persist.
“I’m not going to stop until I drop,” Church said.
Virtually all the families selected for a Habitat home are single-parent. The statistics provided by the organization indicate that a minimum-wage employee would have to work 74 hours a week to rent a two-bedroom apartment, and rental costs are going up. A need for affordable housing is essential, Church said.
The organization doesn’t give away homes to prospective owners. A person must be accepted through an application process and be prepared to repay a no-interest mortgage – as well as provide 150 hours of “sweat-equity” in working alongside volunteers for their homes.
Beyond its small staff, Aiken Habitat is defined by the support of the business community, churches, local government entities, and social service agencies. Habitat, ultimately, is about faith.
Five churches sponsored a new home and provided much of the construction in 2010. Each new homeowner has a shepherd, or mentor, to provide assistance and encouragement.
At a 2011 dedication ceremony for new homeowner Robyn Fonce, her shepherd, Carolyn Beeler, presented her with a Bible. Fonce had never imagined she could own a Habitat home for her three children.
“There are so many people here today I want to thank,” Fonce said then. “God’s grace has brought me here, all of us here. Sometimes I wonder how, but with him, all things are possible.”
Deb Kladivko, president of the Aiken Habitat Board of Directors, has worked with the program for past 11 years, serving three terms on the board.
“I love going to the house dedications and seeing the difference it makes in people’s lives,” Kladivko said. “It really puts it in perspective why volunteers work so hard. I get to see the full cycle. I’m involved in interviews and get to be there when the homeowner receives the key.”
Want to help?
• Aiken County Habitat for Humanity needs: The faith-based program has benefited from the community through funding and volunteer assistance, but more help is needed for house construction, organizational committees and volunteers for its ReSale Store.
• Volunteer information: Call 642-9295, ext. 105; the store at 642-0530 or visit www.habitataiken.org.
• Donations welcomed: People or organizations are invited to participate in the Habitat 25-Year Campaign. A check payable to Aiken County Habitat for Humanity should have “25-Year Campaign” on the memo line and should be sent to P.O. Box 3323, Aiken, S.C. 29803.