Features

Hosanna circle

National | A single mom uses prayer and sweat equity to get a Habitat home sweet home

Issue: "Against all odds," May 30, 1998

in Americus, Ga. - Dozers had cut a bright red path through the Georgia clay, a path the platt maps were calling Glory Court and Lily Lane. Some spring rains had kept Georgia Power idle, but work on the 20 homes in this newest of housing projects in Americus, Ga., continued anyway. Terri Muff, a 29-year-old single mother of five, had already spent 170 hours working not only at the site that would someday be her home, but also at other homes being built in this recent Habitat for Humanity blitz. It wasn't a high-dollar development; there was not a post-1975 pickup in sight. Most of the workers were either college kids or retired men. But mixed in were a number of future homeowners, such as Terri. "I'm not so good at hammering nails," she admitted. "But I'm pretty good at other things. Last weekend I was painting primer on some doors. I did okay at that." She wore boots as she walked through the site, gingerly stepping over puddles until she came to Lot 13, Hosanna Circle. "This is it," she said grandly. "Home Sweet Home!" It wasn't much to look at: a sloping, bare yard, a cinderblock foundation with some PVC pipes sticking up through the concrete. "It's not very close to being finished," she said. "But don't tell that to my kids. They started packing two weeks ago." That's the kind of excitement Habitat for Humanity can generate. Habitat homes are built with volunteer labor, and as much donated material as possible, for low-income families, many of whom had been living in government housing projects. The homes are sold to the homeowners with no-interest mortgages, and families are taught the skills they need to keep the homes-skills such as making a household budget. The average home costs $39,700. Even more impressive is the "sweat equity" requirement. The families must put 250 hours of work into their home, or into another Habitat project. A Habitat home is "a simple, decent place to live," a two- or three-bedroom frame house with bright-colored siding and a small yard. Americus (where Habitat was founded) has several neighborhoods full of Habitat homes, and the pinks and blues and yellows make the nearby Section 8 housing projects seem drab and dismal by comparison. Ownership makes the contrast even more pronounced. An unkempt yard and graffiti are rarities in a Habitat neighborhood, and HUD statistics show that the children who move into a Habitat house are likely to see a dramatic improvement in grades at school. Habitat is the rare ecumenical effort that successfully unites conservatives with liberals (even Jack Kemp and Jimmy Carter are in agreement on this). Next month, when the Jimmy Carter Work Project begins in Houston-more than 100 homes will be built-organizers expect Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, and even Mormons to participate. "We build houses to give hands-on demonstration of our belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ," says Millard Fuller, the successful businessman who gave away his money and started Habitat in 1976. Today, the Christian roots of the movement are somewhat muted. Bibles are given along with the keys to each house, and most Habitat events and rallies open with prayer. But Habitat is not explicitly gospel-centered enough to scare off AmeriCorps officials (in fact, Habitat projects are a favorite of the paid "volunteers" of AmeriCorps). Still, homeowners such as Terri Muff know where to direct thanks. "I'm just grateful to the Lord for this," she said, beaming over a stack of cinderbocks in the mud. "I can remember praying, praying for something like this. Now it's been answered." Jenny, a white 20-year-old AmeriCorps worker, pulled Terri by the hand to show her the slab she helped pour. "I didn't know it was going to be your house when we were mixing the mud!" Terri starts pointing out the "rooms," where the kitchen will be, where the bathroom will be. Then she steps over a small wall and into her yard. "We'll have two trees here," she tells Jenny. "And the flower bed along there. There's a Family Fun Day scheduled, and that's when we'll do a lot of the landscaping. We're going to be singing then."

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