By Ellie Barker
Imagine not having a decent roof over your head. The place where you live is barely able to justify itself as a home. For some people this is the case even here in Watauga County, but Habitat for Humanity is working hard to make sure this situation is no longer a reality. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Jennings, who is the Director of Development for Watauga County Habitat for Humanity, to talk about the role the organization plays in our community. Jennings has worked at Habitat for Humanity for three and half years. Before that she was with Hospitality House. Working in a homeless shelter, she saw how hard it was each day for those people. When the Director of Development position opened up at Habitat for Humanity, she jumped at the opportunity. In this role, she has a voice in solving affordable housing issues in the area and collecting necessary resources. She wanted to have a bigger impact on those struggling with affordable housing and saw it as an opportunity to transform the community.
Habitat for Humanity has been in Watauga County since 1987 when they were originally part of the Avery County branch, but they broke off in the mid 90’s. They partner with low-to-moderate income families or individuals and help them build and buy their own home. Jennings fundraises to help cover upfront costs and construction managers. Future homeowners must put in what is called “sweat equity,” which means working on the house in whatever capacity they can. They then buy the house with a zero-percent interest mortgage.
Habitat for Humanity’s ultimate goal (the vision) is to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live. The way they get there is by putting God’s love into action. By building homes, they build hope and community, by having volunteers, donors, and future homeowners working together for a great cause.
To apply for a home with Habitat for Humanity, there is no waiting list. They do a press release and some social media and accept home-owner applications for the next 45-65 days. There are three criteria to be eligible for a home. One, you must have low-to-moderate income to show that you could pay for the home. Two, you must have a housing need. And lastly, you must have the willingness to partner with Habitat for Humanity. You have to commit at least 200 hours of sweat equity. There is no discrimination in the selection process.
Jennings said, “While being a Christian-based organization, we do not choose our families based on their beliefs. Anyone of any faith or no faith can apply for a home or volunteer to build one”.
They have several programs to get more people involved. One is called Women Build, which is in partnership with Lowes. Lowes and Habitat International picked 240 affiliates (keeping in mind there’s over 1400 affiliates in the world) and gave them a grant of $5000. Jennings’s job is to get mostly women out to the build site on the designated date to help finish a home. There are keynote speakers including congresswoman Virginia Foxx sharing the role women have in transforming the community.
Current projects include the Habitat neighborhood right beside Green Valley School near Lowes Foods. They have two houses they are building there now which will make a total of seven in the neighborhood. They’re getting ready to finish their 29th home and, in the spring, they will break ground on home 30. Within this year, they will complete two houses and break ground on two more. On average they build around 2 homes a year depending on volunteers and the weather. It takes about 13-14 months to build a house.
They’re starting to implement a method called blitz building, meaning within a week or two weeks they get as many volunteers as they can (as well as trained construction workers) to build as much as they can.
“We did a project using this method last September partnering with a group called The Habitat Road Trip Crazies. On a Friday morning, there was just the subfloor of the house, by Sunday evening in that same weekend the whole house was dried in.”
You can visit a website called AppBuildsAHome to find more information.
Another part of the volunteer program is Wednesday Warriors. This program started because Wednesdays and Saturdays are typical build days, but they were finding that everyone was signing up for Saturdays. In order for it to process functionally, they needed people to sign up for at least one Wednesday a month and they call those people the Wednesday Warriors. In the winter there’s a group of 4 Wednesday Warriors; in the summer they are anticipating it increasing to about 6 or 7.
“For someone who has no experience building a house, it’s a not difficult thing to get involved in,” said Jennings. “We teach you on site. For example, when we are finishing up a project you could learn to lay flooring, which is actually pretty easy”.
There is always at least one person onsite who knows how to do everything, and they teach everyone else. One of the great things about volunteering with Habitat for Humanity is, as well as the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you help someone else, you also acquire skills.
Habitat for Humanity in Watauga County is a great organization that is working hard to provide suitable housing for those with low-to-moderate income. They are virtually run by mostly volunteers who sacrifice their time to help others in need. To volunteer with Habitat for Humanity please visit, “https://wataugahabitat.org/volunteer”.