Belinda and Earl Phillips: With faith, there are no limits -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Belinda and Earl Phillips: With faith, there are no limits

Belinda and Earl Phillips, married for almost 20 years, are moving from a damaged mobile home into a fully accessible Habitat house with their 15-year-old son, Blake.

Belinda and Earl Phillips have learned a lot from their 15-year-old son, Blake, who has spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the spinal column. “He never gives up,” said Earl, who is on permanent disability with rheumatoid arthritis.

Persistence obviously runs in the family.

Belinda worked as a school janitor before deciding she wanted to work with students full-time. She took a job as a teacher’s assistant in middle school--which paid less than the cleaning job--and started taking college classes on the side. In May--the same month work begins on her family’s Habitat home--she’ll get her associate’s degree. If all goes according to plan, she’ll earn her bachelor’s degree from William Carey University in the fall of 2009.

“I prayed over it before I started,” Belinda said. “It was the right thing for the family.”

Belinda and Earl have been married almost 20 years. For most of their married life, they’ve lived in a mobile home parked on the three-acre site of Earl’s parents’ house.

“They’ve always been close by,” said Earl’s mother, Betty. “We don’t know any different.”

The aging trailer was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, which was mostly wind-driven rain by the time it reached Lucedale. The storm damaged the wood deck and destroyed the ramp that allowed son Blake access in his wheelchair. The ramp has been rebuilt, but the steep angle makes it impossible for Blake to maneuver without help.

“If he wants to get in or out, he needs somebody to go with him,” his mother said. “He can’t do it by himself.”

Blake has defied such limits his whole life, his parents are quick to say. After multiple surgeries, he is able to stand by himself for short periods, and he taught himself to swim.

“He’s taught us all a lot,” said Earl.

At this year’s Carter Work Project, volunteers will start construction on a house just a few hundred feet from the Phillips’ old trailer. Surrounded by old-growth trees and sprawling, open lawns, the new house will sit directly behind the neat red house where Earl’s parents live.

“We are so, so blessed to be getting this house,” said Belinda.

As both Phillips families show visitors the site of the new house, three small, exceptionally well-fed dogs amble around underfoot. One of the dogs reportedly used to belong to a neighbor but just kept showing up at the Phillips homestead. Eventually, the neighbor just suggested they keep the wayward mutt.

“He knew a good home when he saw one,” said Harrell Moore, laughing. “He knew a good home.”

Affiliate Information:
Lucedale, Mississippi: 10 houses for Carter Project 2008

George County, a bedroom community with a population of about 25,000, picked up an estimated 4,000 evacuees from the Gulf Coast in 2005. That influx, along with the promise of more people moving to the area when a big steel plant opens up on the Alabama line, has dramatically increased the need for affordable housing.

“We’re planning on a lot more people,” said Harrell Moore, minister at Grace United Methodist Church and president of the George County Habitat for Humanity, based in the county seat of Lucedale.

Like many of Habitat’s smaller, more rural affiliates, George County HFH is staffed entirely by volunteers. They work out of an office in an old garment factory.

“You can do a lot with a few committed people,” said the soft-spoken Moore. “We know there a lot of people here who need a home, so we’re doing as much as we can.”

Building one house a year is typical for such small affiliates. But since the hurricane season of 2005, there have been no typical years. Between February 2007 and February of this year, George County HFH built 15 houses. Plans are to build 10 more before the end of 2008.

Once the hurricane fallout has subsided, Moore said, the affiliate’s goal is to build three houses a year for the foreseeable future.

For this year’s Carter Project, George County HFH will build 10 houses.