“When I get connected to something,” says Habitat house sponsor Clark Howard, “I stay connected to it.”
The seed was sown early for Howard. His father Bernard had grown up during the Great Depression and twice came home from school to find his family evicted from their apartment, with all their belongings piled on the sidewalk. Years later, as an adult in Atlanta, he started a homeless shelter at his local synagogue as a way to give back.
Clark became a well-known radio personality in Atlanta, hosting a consumer-oriented talk show that was long on frugality and common sense. When he heard about Habitat for Humanity in 1994, he thought its approach of financial literacy classes, sweat equity and no-profit mortgages was a perfect fit with his message of financial responsibility.
“I said, ‘Habi-what?’” he recalls. “Some Habitat homeowners I was speaking to started explaining it to me, and I thought that sounded like a great idea.” He saved up to sponsor a house with Atlanta Habitat, and when it was completed for homeowner Tinnie Prather in 1996, he dedicated it to his father.
This spring, Howard sponsored his 50th Habitat house out of his own pocket. Elyse Thomas, a clerk with the Fulton County Tax Commissioner’s Office, will move into her blue three-bedroom home in April with 3-year-old daughter Erin. They have been living in a small apartment in an unsafe neighborhood; someone once shot a bullet through her bedroom wall that passed right over her head as she lay in bed. Now she will live in a row of Habitat houses on Gaslight Lane.
Howard’s radio show is now syndicated on 225 stations, and he appears regularly on the TV network HLN. He speaks all over the country and donates his speaking fees, plus part of his income, to his Habitat building fund. From his base in Atlanta, he has expanded to sponsoring and working on Habitat homes in Valdosta, Georgia; Joplin, Missouri; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
On a late winter Saturday morning — 30 degrees, lead-gray skies, a few snow flurries — Howard welcomed the volunteers he had recruited to help put the finishing touches on Thomas’ home. He could not stay to paint, though; he got on a plane for Tulsa, where he was raising the walls on Howard House 51. Staying connected.
Howard recently spoke at the 2013 Habitat for Humanity national affiliate conference. Watch this short video in which he describes two things he sees during home dedications.