Families glad to have homes
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 27, 2009 1:46 PM
George and Crystal Robbins and their two sons will be spending this holiday season in their own home, thanks to Habitat for Humanity. Thirty-five other families in Wayne County also had roofs over their heads this Thanksgiving.
MOUNT OLIVE -- This Thanksgiving marked the one-year anniversary of George and Crystal Robbins' new role as homeowners -- thanks to Habitat for Humanity.
In their old mobile home, storm clouds and thunder sent Mrs. Robbins reaching for the phone to call her husband at work in case dangerous winds or flooding threatened her and their sons.
"I didn't like being by myself," she said.
The trailer was hot in summer, cold in winter, and even though Robbins worked to replace the flooring and make other improvements, the old mobile home thwarted his efforts with burst pipes when the weather grew cold.
But this year, Thanksgiving was spent in a new home.
The Robbinses were the 28th family in Wayne County to move into their own home, thanks to the help of the many volunteers and staff of Goldsboro Habitat for Humanity.
The family was thrilled and surprised when they were selected from a group of applicants to receive a newly built home all their own.
"I've always really known about it, (but) we didn't think we would qualify," Mrs. Robbins said.
When they found out they had been selected to participate, "I just thought I was in a dream," she said.
The couple's two children, Sam, 10, and Jimmie, 6, have happily adjusted to their new neighborhood and house -- with just one small snag.
"They swear there's a ghost in there. They will not sleep in their bedrooms," Mrs. Robbins said, laughing.
But for the first time, the boys have their own bedrooms to play in, and sleep in, once they have conquered their worries about spooky encounters with ghosts. And having the house has taken a weight off their parents' minds.
"It's something we can give to the boys," Robbins said.
It might not have been possible for the family to be in their own, safe home for Thanksgiving this year without Habitat for Humanity's home ownership program, Robbins said. Although they were on track to eventually own their old mobile home, "it wasn't really home like this," he said.
Adrienne Strickland, community relations coordinator for the Goldsboro Habitat for Humanity group, said helping others to help themselves is the idea behind Habitat for Humanity's mission.
"We like to say it's a step up or a hand up instead of a hand out. We're helping them to reach their potential," she said.
The Christian non-profit group has given more than three dozen Wayne County families just such a hand up since the local branch of the organization was founded in 2001 by Bill and Jan Edgerton. Another house, the 37th, is currently under construction, with all the work done by volunteers under the guidance of a team construction manager.
The program has credit, income, partnership and residency requirements. A family has to have lived in Wayne County for at least a year, and there is an income cap on who can apply.
"A lot of people think we give houses away. That's not the case. These families purchase them from us," Mrs. Strickland said.
There are also rules for people participating in the program to ensure that they give back just as much to the community as it has given to them, continuing the cycle of good will.
Robbins, who works with a local lumber company, not only helped to build his own home, he also worked on two other Habitat for Humanity homes for other families in need of a helping hand. One of them is now the Robbinses' neighbor's home.
The idea is called "sweat equity," Mrs. Strickland said. Each family accepted into the program is required to perform 300 hours of community service, 50 of which must be completed before the groundbreaking of the family's own house. But the rewards are well worth it to the families, she said.
"I've had families come into my office and say they never in their wildest dreams thought they could own a home. I have the pleasure of telling them yes, they can be homeowners. When we say welcome to the Habitat for Humanity family, we truly mean that," Mrs. Strickland said.
The exact amount varies, but most of the families who qualify for one of the homes typically pay $59,000 for a three-bedroom Habitat house, making low payments for 20 years on a zero percent interest payment schedule.
But even better than telling potential homeowners about their successful application is the house dedication once construction is complete, Mrs. Strickland said.
"It's one of the most heartwarming things you can do, because that's when you present the keys to them. It's a very emotional moment.
"To see those families transition from their previous situations, and they come from various backgrounds, to be able to have their family in their own home that's well built, safe, efficient, it's a pleasure," she said.
In the eight years since the organization's branch was first founded in Wayne County, community support for the group has been outstanding, Mrs. Strickland said. Although many Habitat for Humanity groups are only able to build a few houses a year, with all the support from volunteers, the local branch has built an average of 6-8 houses a year in Goldsboro and Mount Olive. They even plan to start building yet another home in about a month's time, Mrs. Strickland said.
"We would not be able to do that without the strong community foundations. We're also very thankful for our founders, Bill and Jan Edgerton," she said.
There are many ways for community members to get involved with the Habitat for Humanity program. Even people without construction experience can pick up a hammer to volunteer on a building site, or instead volunteer with the ReStore, Habitat for Humanity's retail location that sells donated items to collect money for the program. Donating money or providing lunches for volunteer groups who are working on houses are also ways to get involved.
Things are still challenging for the Robbins family, who like many others are facing the consequences of a difficult recession. But this holiday season, they know what they will be most thankful for as they gather around the dinner table.
And if the rain starts to fall, Mrs. Robbins won't have to reach for the phone.
"I'm not scared when storms come anymore," she said.