Life in Our Foothills December 2021 – Building Hope, Building Dreams

Published 11:24 pm Monday, December 6, 2021

“Through shelter, we empower.”

You’ll find this motto on the Thermal Belt Habitat for Humanity’s website, and after learning more about this local affiliate of the well-known organization, it’s easy to see that these words are taken to heart. Habitat believes access to decent, affordable housing is a cornerstone of a strong community, and their work helps families achieve their dreams of home ownership.

Put simply, Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to enrich the community by helping families obtain affordable housing. They’ve been doing just that all over the world, including right here in the foothills.

Founded in the early 1980s, the Thermal Belt branch built its first Habitat home in the area in 1984. Over the following decades they have completed dozens and dozens of homes here in the foothills, using primarily volunteer labor. The homes are built with efficiency and sustainability in mind, often using local materials to keep costs low. Future Habitat homeowners are selected based on certain criteria, including their need for decent housing, their ability to repay an affordable mortgage and their willingness to partner with Habitat to build a place they can call home.

The roots of Habitat for Humanity go back to the early seventies, when Millard and Linda Fuller helped develop the concept of partnership housing. After helping to build over a hundred homes in developing regions of Africa, they realized this concept would work in communities all over the world. Habitat for Humanity International was then founded in 1976, with the first Habitat home being built in Texas the following year. Hundreds of thousands of Habitat homes have been built since.

One common misconception that many have about Habitat is that these houses are simply given to families, free of charge. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Qualified families must complete 200 hours of “sweat equity,” either volunteering their time to the construction of their home or at one of the Restore locations. The process from qualification to moving into the new home can sometimes be a long one. A mortgage is taken out for these homes, although the purchase price is substantially lower than the cost of similar newly constructed houses.

The funds needed to do this work come from charitable donations made by folks in the local community. While these funds are often received through generous monetary donations, a large portion comes from the sale of gently used donated items, such as furniture, home appliances, antiques and building supplies at a Habitat Restore.

“Our Restore locations are such an integral part of what Habitat for Humanity is able to accomplish,” says Linda Corns, Director of ReStore Operations. “This couldn’t be done without them.”

Landrum’s Tom Connell Habitat for Humanity Restore, located at 132 North Trade Avenue in downtown Landrum, is one of those retail stores. Along with its sister stores located in Hendersonville, NC and Fletcher, NC, the Landrum Restore offers a wide variety of interesting things to shop for. The Restore staff works tirelessly, keeping inventory moving to benefit deserving families in the foothills. Bargain hunters can peruse shelves of books, artwork, hardware and home decor. Those on a budget who are looking for bargains on furniture, home furnishings and appliances always seem to find what they’re looking for. Items for donation can be brought to the stores, or pick-ups for these items can be scheduled where employees come out to load up heavier items in a large box truck. Additionally, people can schedule workers to come out and salvage donations like kitchen cabinets and construction materials.

The Tom Connell Habitat for Humanity Restore in Landrum was actually one of the first Habitat Restore locations to open its doors in the country. Donated to the organization in the early nineties by Tom Connell, the building itself is a fixture in the local community.

“You never really know what you are going to see when you shop at the Restore,” says Scott Wessinger, Store Manager at the Landrum location. “Several years back, a family donated an original Pablo Picasso serving platter to us, which raised a lot of money for Habitat. We see one-of-a-kind antiques, Victorian furniture, riding lawn mowers, just a little bit of everything. Not many retail stores can say that.”

Staff members Rita Rencis, Dawn Taylor and Conner Stanley agree that a wide variety of donated items make their way to the sales floor.

“I just love coming to work each day at the Restore, ” says Rita. “The customers and my co-workers are such a pleasure to be around. I’m amazed at the variety of donations we receive. One piece that really sticks out in my memory was an elegant hammered copper table that we sold about a year ago. You just never know what you’re going to see here at the shop.”

Parallel to the hard work done at the ReStore, Habitat accepts applications from families interested in having a Habitat home built, and performs a thorough process to select what families are most in need. More information about this, as well as information about volunteering, can be found at the organization’s website, thermalbelthabitat.org, or by reaching out to Krysta Osweiler, Homeowner Selection Coordinator or Lynne Taylor, Volunteer Coordinator at the administrative office.

“Being on-site during the construction of a new home is such a joyous experience” says Lynne Taylor. “You can actually watch in real time as a family goes from a house to a home”

Of course, one of the most important aspects of what this organization does is the actual construction of the homes. That’s where Bruce Gordon, Director of Construction and Doug Bailey, Site Supervisor come in.

“We take a lot of pride in these homes being so well built,” says Doug Bailey. ”We love to know that a well qualified family can be in a new home that will last for decades”

“It never gets old, watching a concrete slab have walls and a roof added in just one day,” Doug says, referring to the “Blitz Build” process used for home construction. “All the volunteers are smiling when they see a house turn into a home – and we definitely couldn’t do this without folks willing to lend a hand.”

The construction of a Habitat home is a coordinated effort between the families who are becoming homeowners, the construction crew and countless volunteers. The lives of these families are forever changed through this process of building their new homes. They are building hope for the future, and realizing their dreams.

One such family in Columbus is the Alicia Price family, who recently helped as their new home was being constructed. Volunteers from the Church of the Holy Cross in Tryon, as well as various Habitat personnel, spent a recent Saturday literally raising the roof and walls of the new home.

“It feels like it’s been a long process, but today went by so fast. My family and I are so happy, and we’re proud of what we’ve all accomplished together,” Alicia shares.

The walls, which had been pre-built by volunteers in Hendersonville and transported by trailer, went up quickly. By lunchtime a house stood where only a concrete slab had been before.

“It gives me such joy that we are able to build again,” said Stan Gibson, crew leader from the Episcopal Church. Some of the volunteers are skilled carpenters. Others were willing to learn and happy to carry tools or shout words of encouragement.

Volunteers that day included Stan Gibson, Jill Munro, Sarah Caldwell, Joe McConnell, Father Peter Coffin, John Steen, MaryBeth Trunk, Jim Trunk, Joe Porta and Dave Mullen. Some of these volunteers have dedicated time to Habitat for over two decades.

Alicia and her family anticipate moving into their home soon. “I’m so grateful for all of the people involved. Becoming a homeowner, and learning so much while partnering with Habitat just means the world to my family and I.” Alicia said. “I feel like this is what I’ve worked for my entire life, providing shelter for my family.”

Stories like these have taken place dozens of times over the decades here in the Foothills. Habitat homes dot the landscape across our area, as well as all over the world. The dedication, compassion and generosity of those involved say volumes about folks in our area. Due to the kindness these people show and the hard work they put in, countless families have realized their dream of home ownership. Indeed, this story should inspire hope in us all.

If you’d like to learn more about how to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in our area, or how to apply to be a potential homeowner, visit thermalbelthabitat.org or call (828) 393-6494. If you’re interested in donating to the Habitat ReStore in Landrum, call (864) 457-2666.