A Hand Up: Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando, founded in 1986, has made a lasting impact on the region and helped hundreds of individuals realize the dream of homeownership. In 31 years, the organization has built more than 300 homes with the help of community volunteers and homeowner candidates willing to put in the work necessary to make their dreams come true. The value brought to the community, as a result of neighbor helping neighbor cannot be measured, but it is felt on a daily basis.
For those involved with Habitat For Humanity of Greater Orlando, the principles of working hard and giving back have become a mantra of sorts. Similar to other non-profits, the organization is dependent on private donations and government assistance, but it’s the volunteers who make up the backbone of the organization. Catherine Steck McManus, the organization’s president and CEO, calls Habitat “four businesses in one.”
The thrift home good stores, known as ReStores, help expand the organization’s reach in the community by selling gently used home goods and construction materials. The construction department has three general contractors on staff who work directly with Habitat’s 5,000 annual volunteers. The organization’s human service agency works with low-income individuals to educate them on the home buying process. Prospective homeowners take 17 classes, which amounts to more than 34 hours of education. Class topics include budgeting, financing and maintaining the home, which are all essential for first-time homeowners.
Lending services represents the organization’s fourth area of service. Habitat homes are sold at a zero percent interest mortgage to those in the prospective homeowner program. The mortgage process follows the same guidelines as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which means a candidate’s finances and work history are reviewed. The need for housing is also reviewed, which can look different depending on the applicant.
“A Habitat home is really a hand up, not a hand out,” Steck McManus explained. “Our future homeowners work between 200 and 400 hours to help build their neighbors’ homes and volunteer in different capacities throughout the organization. Everyone works to achieve a common goal.”
She added that 90 percent of Habitat’s homeowners are working adults, and many of them work two jobs and raise families at the same time. “Trying to accomplish that, plus putting in 200 to 400 hours of volunteer work, is not an easy to do thing,” she said. “Not only are we proud of them for doing that, but it really gives them a lot of skin in the game.”
For Steck McManus, the ability to be in someone’s life and make an impact is something the organization was built to perpetuate. When asked about specific individuals she has encountered along the way, she mentioned two women who come from very different backgrounds.
Genice was a college-educated mother of two with a successful job who was stricken with a neuroskeletal disease that left her unable to work. She was left paralyzed from the chest down with limited use in her arms and is unable to cook without burning her arms on the stovetop. Through Habitat’s neighborhood revitalization program, she was able to cook for her family again.
“We built a kitchen that allows her to comfortably and safely provide wonderful meals for her family, which makes her feel like she’s giving something back to her children,” said Steck McManus. “Her children are young adults, but one still lives at home with her and is going to college in town because of her mother’s situation. They’ve sacrificed, so she wants to do her part.”
LaToya, a single mother with two daughters, was looking to get out of her crime- and drug-ridden community, which included a moldy apartment with boarded windows and a bug infestation. As a certified nurse’s assistant, she faced adversity along the way and was turned down twice by Habitat because of her credit. She continued to work on her credit, and the third time was the charm; LaToya and her family were able to move into a Habitat home.
“Seeing the pride on her face was incredible,” said Steck McManus. “She knows this represents a significant change in her future and the future of her children.”
As Habitat continues to work with and for people like Genice and LaToya, the organization understands that the impact of people working together to build and renovate homes for at-need families is both palpable and lasting to everyone involved. Looking ahead, the organization plans to buy more land on which to build new homes and is working on Arbor Bend, a housing unit with 34 affordable, single-family homes that should be completed in 2018.
For Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando, all phases of its business are designed to provide life-changing opportunities for community members and build a strong foundation for the communities in which the organization serves.
Want To Learn More?
For more information on Habitat for Humanity, please visit www.HabitatOrlando.org.