People Helping People
Falling on hard times is tough enough. It’s even tougher without a house to come home to. Countless lives have been changed by Habitat for Humanity, an international nonprofit ecumenical Christian housing business that builds homes for limited income families.
“Some families who apply for Habitat homes live in substandard rentals or unsafe neighborhoods. So Habitat homes can truly change their lives,” says Ann Felton, CEO of the Central Oklahoma faction. Getting a Habitat home means “children get a yard to play in, a safe street to ride bikes on and, in many cases, their own room.”
Due to low prices and no-interest loans, many families find their Habitat house payments are less than what they paid in rent. Plus, they’re building equity. “Single moms can go back to school to get their degree, families can afford things they couldn’t before, or they just find they can have a savings account for the first time in their lives,” Felton says.
Enter Bob Turner, president and one of the three founders of Turning Point Ministries, Inc., a local non-profit organization dedicated to arranging affordable housing for low-income single-parent families in Edmond.
As a retired real estate agent and prior member of Habitat’s board of directors, Turner saw the need and got to work. “It’s something we can do in our own community,” Turner explains, “to make life better for some moms and, in particular, the kids.”
In addition to acquiring homes to rent to single mothers in Edmond, and stockpiling furniture and appliances to donate to those in need, Turning Point Ministries works with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes specifically in Edmond.
Michelle Baker is a perfect example. Widow and single mother of two living in an apartment in northwest Oklahoma City, Baker needed to be closer to Edmond. Not only because of her job as a librarian at Santa Fe High School, but also because her mentally challenged son’s school program was in Edmond.
When Turning Point Ministries encouraged Baker to apply for a Habitat house, she was shocked when the application was approved. Three months later, Habitat began building her a house in Edmond – on a lot donated by Turning Point.
Now Baker and son Zachary, 18, and daughter Alyssa, 15, live in a 1300 square foot, three bedroom, and two bath new house fully equipped with appliances, a yard, and a two car garage. It’s a considerable step up from their former, inconveniently located apartment where the kids took the bedrooms and Baker slept on the sofa.
The first home she’s ever owned, Baker says it’s completely changed her life and the lives of her kids. “It gives them a neighborhood,” she says. “They have a yard they can play in, they can have their friends over, and you feel safer in a house.”
To qualify for a Habitat home, families must have a combined income of at least $16,000 a year and undergo an extensive background check. In addition, the family purchasing the home must contribute 300 hours of what Habitat terms “sweat equity” – time spent volunteering for other Habitat construction projects.
The sweat equity requirement means many Habitat homes are built in part by other Habitat homeowners, creating a never-ending cycle of willing volunteers. It also provides homeowners with the chance to participate in the construction of their own house.
“To actually get to work on the house and getting to build it with my friends was the best part,” says Baker. “I knew almost everyone from my church – they were there. It meant a lot to know they cared about me and were interested in helping me build my house.”
Once the house is built, Habitat sells the home to a qualified applicant “at cost” – meaning it doesn’t cost the buyer a penny more than it cost to build it. In addition, Habitat offers their homeowners interest-free mortgages, making the house payments more affordable.
Words can’t express how you feel about all those who helped your dream of owning a home come true, Baker says. But she does have a message for potential volunteers: “It’s a lot of fun to be a part of Habitat. There’s always something you can do. Get out there and work and volunteer, because it’s going to help somebody. When you’re building someone’s house, you know who it’s going to help; you may even meet that someone. Plus, you can bring your friends.”
To find out how to apply for a Habitat home, call 232-4828 for an application, or for more information about contributing or volunteering for the program, visit www.centraloklahomahabitat.org. To contact Turning Point Ministries and find out how you can get involved, visit www.turningpointoklahoma.org, or call 405-818-6264.