Where Love Abounds

By Trisha Hiatt Photo by: Demilio Photography

A house is more than just four walls. The moment the foundation is poured, the walls are raised, and the roof is constructed is the beginning of what will become a place where a family dwells, where children have memories, and where love can grow. It’s a place where laughter and tears occur, learning abounds, and hard work, sweat, and toil take place. A house is a shelter in the storm, a place of comfort and warmth, a place to feed the hungry, and a place to relax, laugh, love, be one’s self. Most of all, it’s a dwelling where individuals can ultimately flourish. A house is just a house while being built or if occupants don’t exist inside. It only becomes a home when and where love has the opportunity to abound.

In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus told a parable that explained that a man who builds his house on a rock is wise, as the house will weather a storm, but a man who builds his house on the sand is foolish, as his house will collapse. Proper foundations are necessary. The folks at Habitat for Humanity do everything in their might to provide a proper foundation for their future homeowners.

Without shelter, individuals are deprived of one of the most basic needs of humanity. One in four people worldwide live in conditions that harm health, safety, prosperity, and opportunities. Sleeping in a tent, under a bridge, in the forest, near a dumpster or any other undesirable place night after night with little to no food is unfathomable to 99.5 percent of the U.S. population.

What happens when a homeless person is provided a home by a nonprofit such as Habitat for Humanity? A lot. A lot of good happens to that person. They have the ability to experience growth, the ability to thrive, and gradual development of character. Stability, confidence, security and steadfastness come from a person being granted one of the most basic human rights they deserve.

“Living in an affordable home allows folks to be their best,” said Elizabeth Chryst, Board Chair of Habitat for Humanity in Marion County, “and we want to eliminate the struggle of not having a home.”

Because children from lower income families tend to bounce from school to school, it’s hard for them to sustain good grades, and they become at risk for dropping out.

“Within the first year of a child moving into a home, the child’s grade increases one letter grade,” Chryst said. According to Habitat.com, a survey that took place in Denver comparing more than 400 Habitat Metro Denver families to the local average for similar demographic and economic groups, children raised in a Habitat home are twice as likely to go to college.

The Marion County Habitat for Humanity has been in existence for 26 years, and over that time, built 220 homes for over 2,000 Marion County residents. One of the most profitable fundraisers that aids in helping build a home is the Strawberry Festival. This past year, it was held on March 4, 2017 and every single dollar raised from the event is going directly to a “strawberry house.”

For volunteers, building a Habitat home creates a sense of purpose and unity and helps each of them to give back to the community. Each year more than two million Habitat volunteers build and raise awareness of the worldwide need for housing. In Marion County, over 1,000 volunteers are needed for the annual Strawberry Festival, which has taken place in Ocala at the McPherson Complex for the last three years.

Being a sponsor for this event is a rewarding endeavor, as financial assistance is not just handed over. Sponsors can become involved in the process.

“Our sponsors are very important,” said Joanne Black, Development Director at Habitat for Humanity in Marion County. “All of the sponsors are called to be a part of the wall raising, including writing inspirational messages on the two-by-fours and meeting the future homeowners.”

The Strawberry Festival gets better each year. In 2017, a kids’ zone was added, along with a Strawberry Jam 5K partnered with Marion County Children’s Alliance, a law enforcement versus Fire/EMS pie eating contest, an Elvis impersonator, and live music by One Flight Up. A car show returned at the 2017 festival as well as educational demonstrations with live bees. Also in 2017, Habitat for Humanity added a Salute to our Local Heroes providing medals to servicemen from each branch of the armed forces, members of the sheriff’s department and local police and fire departments as well as two Team USA Olympian Athletes.

As always, carnival rides, bounce houses, face painting and many vendors were on site. Tons of juicy, plump strawberries, strawberry pancakes, strawberries and cream, chocolate covered strawberries, and many tasty food choices were available at the festival.

“If there is one concept we want to drive home about the festival, it’s that every single penny of profit goes to a home,” Senior Project Manager Jeff Ruttenberg said. “There are no administrative expenses.”

At Habitat for Humanity, love abounds. Through every action taken, volunteers are committed to showing the love of Christ to future homeowners and providing them with the skill set needed for a solid foundation. Chryst shared a story that was profound to her.

“While building a house, volunteers break for lunch and before we eat, we stand in a circle and hold hands for prayer,” she said. “I noticed one of our future homeowners feeling a little weirded out and questionable about the whole God thing.” When the man became a homeowner, the next thing Chryst knew, he was not only praying with the group, he was in the middle of it leading the prayer. “This ministry works in powerful ways. A lot of the times we are the first introduction into the Christian life for many people, and it can be extremely life changing.”

It’s not just a home that Habitat provides. From the moment a future homeowner is chosen, they are taught certain skills that will prepare them to succeed, such as hard work and dedication. Also provided are counseling and home management classes, which focus on things like budgeting, home maintenance, repair and safety.

Homeowners are chosen through several layers of qualification, including minimum credit score, housing ratio and debt to income ratio. It takes an average of 12 months with 25 hours of work each month to complete a home and the person’s required “sweat equity” hours.

When a Habitat home is built for a family in need, hope, encouragement and love generate, and the beginning of a solid foundation is born. A house becomes a home, and in that home, love has the opportunity to abound.

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