Ben Lockett discuss the Habitat program with local executive director Jennifer Vanston after her speech to members of Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County. (Special Photo: David Shivers)
ALBANY — Habitat for Humanity has spanned the planet over almost four decades building homes for low-income people. The nonprofit, Christian ministry actually was started in 1976 by Linda and the late Millard Fuller just up the road in Americus, and it still has offices there, although headquarters are now in Atlanta.
The Flint River Chapter of Habitat for Humanity was established in 1986, according to local executive director Jennifer Vanston, a fairly-recent newcomer to Albany. Vanston spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County about Habitat and its local activities.
The local chapter is finishing its 157th home in this area and has now incorporated Lee County into its program, a move about which Vanston said the chapter is excited. Five homes have been built this year, she said, and two more were rehabbed.
The local chapter works on the same principles as Habitat for Humanity International. Habitat homeowners are required to attend homebuyer and mortgage counseling classes; be a United States citizen or resident; and complete a minimum of 300 “sweat equity” hours actually working during the home construction. The new homeowners save money with a no-interest mortgage and payments that are never more than $400 a month, she said, and they contribute property taxes to the local government coffers annually.
“Home work begins house care, and house care puts money back into the community,” Vanston said.
Habitat for Humanity’s primary focus, Vanston pointed out, is “making adequate, affordable shelter a matter of conscience and action.” The local affiliate works in partnership with people in need to eliminate substandard housing in Dougherty and Lee counties. Substandard housing is defined as “housing in poor physical condition, overcrowded conditions, and in dangerous neighborhoods.”
Many people, she said, “don’t realize how this has an impact on a child or a family wanting to move forward.” She presented some statistics: Children of low-income homeowners are 33 percent less likely to have children as teens; are 35 percent less likely to receive public assistance; are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 63 percent more likely to acquire post-secondary education.
Women heading single-parent families often gain confidence in themselves as they participate in the actual construction of their new home. Vanston recalled one woman “who had never held a hammer before.”
Vanston also provided some insights into global wealth relativity. According to Vanston:
— If you live in a house with a non-dirt floor, you are in the upper half of the world’s wealthiest people.
— If your house has a window, a door, and more than one room, you are in the top 20 percent of the world’s most prosperous people.
— If you have a pair of shoes, a change of clothes, and a choice of two foods to eat, you are in the top 10 percent of the wealthiest people the world has ever known.
— If your family has a car, a refrigerator, and a microwave, you are in the top one percent of the richest people on the face of the earth.