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After five long years, Habitat for Humanity of Milledgeville/Baldwin County just selected a family for home ownership. Single mom Jennie Halim and her children Jamil, Ari and YaMari look forward to working on and eventually moving into the refurbished residence later this summer.

From nearly losing the affiliate to thriving in the community, Habitat for Humanity of Milledgeville/Baldwin County broke a five-year barrier last Friday by selecting its 18th homeowner.

Single mother Jennie Halim and her three children Jamil, 18, Ari, 9, and YaMari, 8, will soon call a refurbished residence on Leo Court home base.

The five bedroom, two bathroom house is a welcome upgrade from the family’s two bedroom Magnolia Avenue residence.

Halim said the dining room became a bedroom to accommodate everybody.

The new home will be an inviting family gathering place. Mom gets personal space to unwind from hard working hours at the north side Piggly Wiggly, and her young children won’t need to cross another bedroom to get to the kitchen anymore.

The Halims saw the Leo Court home for the first time Wednesday afternoon. A proud mother described a bundle of nerves. Halim can’t say thank you enough.

“It hasn’t completely sunk in because I’m in disbelief,” she said.

Habitat executive director Murali Thirumal said serving families is the primary affiliate mission. This recent selection means Habitat is back on track.

“If we are not serving families, we are failing. All of us on the board feel good we are able to fulfill that mission,” Thirumal said.

The selection process started with 56 applicants in October 2012. Applicants are screened based on need for housing, adjusted median income for Milledgeville and ability to pay.

Potential homeowners can’t make too much that they qualify for a traditional loan, but must have a steady enough job to pay back the Habitat loan.

Those lucky enough to be selected make interest free monthly payments on a 20-year note.

Thirumal said choosing a good, fiscally responsible person takes time.

Applicants must have a documented history of paying bills.

“This is a loan. You have to pay for this house. If you don’t have a track record of being able to pay your bills then Habitat is not a stop,” Thirumal said.

The Habitat Selection Committee chaired by Cathy Chapman must be diligent during the process to ensure homeowners will flourish.

Chapman said the process is strenuous because the homes aren’t “give aways” as some may think.

“We look at family dynamics and whether the family has the ability to pay for a house,” Chapman said.

Many of the 56 hopeful Habitat choices didn’t pass all three criteria.

“It’s a sign of the times we live in and the location,” the director said.

Problem housing levels are near 70 percent in Baldwin County. This includes substandard home conditions, those with no home and people who pay more than 30 percent of income for housing.

In addition to the required minimum sweat equity hours (300) that all applicants must complete helping others, the selection committee does home visits to evaluate how the current residence is kept up as well as establishing need level.

Chapman said this recent choice came down to two candidates. The Halim family fit the mold necessary for addition into the Habitat network.

“It came down to need. One had a greater need than the other for standard, safe housing. We are very pleased with the family that has been selected,” Chapman said. “She’s got some things to start working on before moving in. We are just looking forward to that.”

Halim understood the selection process. She maintained a hopeful, yet realistic approach.

On Friday, June 21, Halim received a voicemail from Chapman telling her she would get the next house. 

“I thought she meant the next house. When I realized they were talking about the current house, I was in shock because you think from all the applicants they have what are the odds of me getting it,” a happy Habitat addition said.

The Halim family looks forward to completing sweat equity on the refurbished residence in the coming weeks.

“When you put in the time, you appreciate it more when it’s all done,” Halim said.

The Leo Court home will receive additional work through First United Methodist Church’s (FUMC) 16th annual River of Life partnership next month. 

River of Life volunteers will work on the Habitat home and assist the affiliate’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) serving three homeowners in Harrisburg.

Through NRI, Habitat is able to serve more families by responding to community needs with an expanded array of products, services and partnerships.

River of Life volunteer W.B. Smith heard about the Habitat home’s rehab needs through coordinator Marty Sirmans.

Smith has always enjoyed helping the summer crew. He has the Leo Court house ready for a July River of Life visit.

The home had countless holes knocked in the walls and doors now smoothed.

“I’ve been going over there for three or four hours in the morning time patching holes and painting sheetrock,” Smith said. “I’m getting it where those kids can come and be ready to paint.”

Thirumal said Habitat is nothing without community teammates.

“For me, it’s heartwarming to know people are coming out to help. All the support we have gotten from the community in the past has been very welcome. The more we get the more we can do,” the Habitat director said.

Sirmans said River of Life’s work with Habitat comes through Family Connection.

The Leo Court elbow grease is welcomed with more than 30-wheelchair ramp constructions scheduled through the church outreach.

Sirmans said it’s good to see a family provided the opportunity to advance.

“The story of the Habitat family that got the house on Leo Court is going to be such an inspiration,” the River of Life coordinator said.

As Habitat continues assisting local community home revitalization and hopefully adding many more families to the network, Chapman said the current times are celebratory.

“It’s always a wonderful feeling to know there is going to be a family that’s going to have a place of their own in a good neighborhood and a safe house. Every time somebody’s need is fulfilled that’s a good thing,” Chapman said. “We are all happy about it. We hope it won’t be as long before we can do this again. We are fulfilling our mission now.” 

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