Margaret Carlton: What goes around comes around -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Margaret Carlton: What goes around comes around

Margaret Carlton, 41, is a native of Mobile. The mother of four daughters, she works as a waitress.

Homeownership was an impossibly distant dream for Margaret Carlton when she was growing up, so she’s making sure her children learn certain lessons early in life.

“I never thought in my life that I would ever have anything of my own,” said Carlton, 41. “Nothing where I could say, ‘I actually helped do this. It’s mine.’

But it’s possible. It’s possible.”

Carlton, a native of Mobile, makes $2.13 an hour plus tips as a waitress. She and three of her four daughters—ages 12, 10 and 3––will be moving into a home on a cul-de-sac across from a middle school after this year’s Carter Work Project. (Her oldest daughter, 21, lives on her own.)

The family was living in a cramped, two-bedroom house in Mobile’s Trinity Gardens area when Hurricane Katrina hit. Once the storm’s severity became obvious, they went across town to Carlton’s mother’s house.

“At least we would all be together,” Carlton said.

A gigantic pecan tree fell into her mother’s house, though, driving the family back to Carlton’s rented house for the duration of the storm. “I had one weather radio and two candles,” she recalled. “That’s the only way we survived.”

Before long, water started coming into the house and the ceiling began to give way, Carlton said.

“We had nowhere to go by now, though, because all the streets were closed down,” she said. “I couldn’t do nothing but pray and just hope that we’d make it through and things would get better.”

Changing things around

That took a little while. About a year after the storm, Carlton began to notice an odor in the rented house.

“It was mold,” Carlton said. “One of my daughters was always sick and I had never known why.”

Desperate to escape the unhealthy house, but unable to afford rent anywhere else, Carlton was forced to move her family in with a friend who has promised to let them stay until their Habitat home is completed.

“I am so, so thankful for Habitat,” Carlton said. “I had almost given up.”

Even while juggling her duties at home and at work, Carlton has already completed her 300 hours of sweat equity. But she is still volunteering at every opportunity.

“You know, a lot of times you’ll hear people say, ‘I don’t have time to go volunteer,’ ” she said. “But when you go through a situation like this and somebody helps you, sometimes you have to change your schedule.

“You have to change things around to help somebody else.”

Affiliate Information:
Mobile, Alabama: 30 houses for Carter Project 2008

Mobile, the only seaport in Alabama, has a uniquely colorful heritage—a blend of French, British, Spanish, African Creole and Catholic—that sets it apart from all other cities in the Deep South state. The city’s elaborate, freewheeling Mardi Gras celebrations begin as early as November and involve nearly all aspects of society.

Before the hurricanes of 2005, Habitat for Humanity in Mobile County built about six houses a year. Since the devastation, the goal is to build 46 a year. Also, affiliate leaders are looking into expanding their service area to include Washington and Clarke counties.

“We have to,” said Courtney Rouse, family services manager for HFH in Mobile County. “We have such a need, and such an opportunity to serve so many people.”

For the 2008 Carter Work Project, the affiliate is building 30 houses.

“We have so many families who have completed their sweat-equity hours and keep coming out,” Rouse said. “That’s a really cool thing, and it’s really what this partnership is all about.”