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Friday, 1997 Jimmy Carter Work Project

By Scot Ninnemann

BEREA, Ky. (June 20, 1997)-- When Joan Hembree gave her granddaughters a tour of their new Habitat house this week, the first thing they wanted to see was the bathroom.

"The first house we rented when we moved to Kentucky didn't have a bathroom," Hembree explains, "just a little shack out back." There was no bathtub whatsoever. "They walked around the house," she says of her grandchildren, "and they said, 'Papa, where's the bathtub?' He said, 'You see the kitchen sink there? That's where you'll be taking a bath.'"

A year and a half ago, Joan and Glenn Hembree and their granddaughters A.J. and Gail had moved to a different house, only marginally better than the first. "I was afraid it was going to fall," Hembree says. "You could throw a cat between the walls and not touch a hair on the cat!'"

Then the Hembree family learned they had been selected to become Habitat homeowners. Like the other families who will buy homes built during this 1997 Jimmy Carter Work Project, the Hembrees were selected on the basis of need, ability to repay a no-interest loan, and willingness to partner with the Habitat program.

"I didn't know whether to scream or what, but tears just streamed," Joan Hembree says. "It was hard for me to believe that anything like this really existed!"

The reality began to sink in when the walls of her new house went up on Monday. "Then it really hit, this is really happening! And it's happening to us!"

Now, as the blitz build comes to a close, the house is nearly complete. The roof has been shingled, the siding installed, the porch constructed, the concrete sidewalk poured, and the interior painting finished. They've even tacked up the number of the house's street address.

All that remains for the post-build is some of the flooring and landscaping. The Hembree kids are eager to plant the roses and lilac bushes they've picked out for the yard.

These Habitat homeowner families have worked long and hard in anticipation of this day. All families receiving Habitat houses contribute "sweat equity," working on house construction or other related tasks.

The Madison County Habitat for Humanity affiliate requires 300 hours of such work, but many of the families receiving these homes have kept working long after the requirement was met. Some have now completed more than 500 hours of work.

Madison County homeowner children can help complete their family's sweat equity requirement by earning good grades, explains Florence Tandy, president of the affiliate board. "That's been real good for the families because the parents will come in and say, 'I got Johndora's report card yesterday and she's so proud because she helped to get the sweat equity.' It really has made it more of a family affair."

The last full day of blitz build work closed today with a house dedication ceremony. Volunteers got a chance to celebrate the week's work and to wish the homeowner families well in their new homes. The contingent of Stanley Tools employees sponsoring and constructing the Hembree house donated a full toolbox to each of the families at the Berea site. And, as is the tradition at Habitat dedication ceremonies, each family received a Bible for their new home.

The ceremony also gave homeowners a chance to express their gratitude to the affiliate and the volunteers who helped them build simple, decent, affordable homes.

"I can't really find enough ways to get the words out to say, 'Thank you,'" says Rossetta Trammel. She and her granddaughter Johndora Nelson will move into one of the Habitat houses constructed this week at the Richmond, Ky., site.

"It means a lot to know that there is that much love, for them to spend their own money to come here. Some of them are using up their good vacation time to come and build homes for people that really need them, at no charge. Just giving and giving."

"We're thankful to God to be able to obtain a home this way," Hembree says. "Ordinarily we would have never been able to obtain our own home."

As the caregiver for her elderly mother, Hembree is especially grateful for the affiliate's consideration of her mother's needs in the house design. "They were beautiful, they widened my doors to make it wheelchair-accessible... Anything they could do to help to make it more comfortable or easier for the family, Habitat has been beautiful about reaching out and doing that. I think it's just marvelous."

As the blitz build ends this weekend, 52 families across Kentucky and Tennessee are becoming new Habitat homeowners. Rossetta Trammel is ready to finish the landscaping and move into her new house.

"The real pleasure of being able to say, 'my house,' that means a whole lot," she says. "We use it in general for where we live, but this time I can say it and mean it. My name is going to be on that deed. It's going to be something that I will truly treasure all the rest of my life."


Scot Ninnemann is webmaster at Habitat for Humanity International in Americus, Ga. He has been on special assignment this week in Berea, Ky., filing daily web reports on the Jimmy Carter Work Project.



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