The Union Recorder

November 12, 2012

Relationship key to Habitat

Successful homeowners, nonprofit thrive through communication

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Appreciate what you have, and you will go a long way. The words of Joyce Roberson sum up a cornerstone homeowner relationship within the Habitat for Humanity Milledgeville/Baldwin County network.

Murali Thirumal, area Habitat executive director, said the nonprofit group that provides homes to partner families works like no other lender.

Applicants must put in at least 300 sweat equity hours helping Habitat to even be considered. Those lucky enough to be selected make interest free monthly payments on a 20-year note.

Thirumal said communication means everything. Homeowners are treated individually, case by case.

The local Habitat affiliate works with partner families like Roberson's. Thurimal said Roberson gets the ideal homeowner award. 

“The worst thing you can do is not communicate. If something is late or early, let us know,” Thirumal said. “This whole program is run on good faith, good prayer and fellowship. If that breaks down, then I think the entire program breaks down.”

Roberson heard about Habitat from a friend shortly after her old home burned down. She had five children at the time, including a foster child, when she applied.

Her newborn son was diagnosed with cancer, forcing back and forth hospital visits by Roberson. The important call from Habitat was a blessing.

“They called me and told me I'd been approved for a home,” Roberson said. “I was the happiest person you could ever see.”

For 12 years, Roberson has maintained payments and kept up a beautiful four-bedroom home on Leo Court. The former certified nursing assistant's home is the gathering place for her four grandchildren.

Some years have been easier than others as far as monthly payments go, but Roberson said Thirumal was visible and open from day one.

“They are always there to work with me, and I really appreciate that,” Roberson said. “The process has been good.”

Thirumal, originally brought in by the board of directors as a consultant, has been with the Habitat affiliate less than a year. 

Board Chair Dr. Doris Moody said the executive director helped reinvigorate the 23-year-old local nonprofit.

“I'm excited that Habitat International has seen this affiliate making quite a comeback. We were off the radar in Milledgeville. People wondered what had happened to Habitat,” Moody said.

From nearly losing the Habitat affiliate to thriving in the community, Moody said raising $100,000 by the end of next year is an attainable goal. Habitat wants to add more families to the 17 home Milledgeville/Baldwin County network.

Another longtime homeowner, Barbara Tatum, earned the third Habitat home in the county. Tatum worked at Blandy Hills Elementary School for eight years. 

Tatum said help from others like the Rev. Payton Cook and Rebecca Brock made the dream a living structure.

With all Habitat homes, the community pitched in goods and labor. Tatum's three-bedroom house was a reward for going above the norm helping others in Milledgeville.

“I thank the Lord everyday for it. I worked hard and did over my sweat equity,” Tatum said. “I had a lot of help from the teachers at Blandy Hills. They helped me every Saturday. I want them to know how much it meant.”

Being there for your neighbor is the cornerstone of Habitat success. From the board down to student volunteers, the commitment continues flourishing.

Roberson said others got her through tough days when the money came up a little short. On track to pay off her mortgage early, Roberson will put money aside to dig another future homeowner out of that same space.

“The Bible says when one person helps you, you should be able to help somebody else,” Roberson said. “That's what I'm all about because you can't get it all by yourself.”

Luckily, the affiliate homeowners are actively paying their mortgages and willing to help out if another home needs building.

Habitat has only one foreclosure in over 20 years.

“The last thing we want to do is foreclose on a home. The times are tough right now and a lot of our homeowners have had problems. It's hard to budget what you have because there are so many expenses,” Moody said. “There is a great need for housing in this community. Everybody can't own a home because you do have to have a reasonable income. We can't let somebody get a mortgage they can't afford to pay. You aren't doing them any favors.”

Moody said Habitat would build more houses in Milledgeville. 

Proud homeowners like Roberson and Tatum reflect an aura of positivity as ideal Habitat partners. 

“The more we help each other the more we can provide for other people,” the Habitat board chair said. “It's a blessing to be able to have and keep a home.”


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