It didnt take the snow on her bed to tell Charlotte Bowling that her living arrangements were dire. She knew that all too well by the tons of coal she burned to temper winter winds and the image of her family huddled around the only heat sourcea pot-bellied, coal-burning stove.
Though times were difficult, Bowling says she and her childrenAndrea, Denim and Seandid what they had to do to get by in the four-room house with freezing pipes, no insulation and exposed wiring.
When youve got children, you worry about them being warm, and with the stove, there was always the danger of the place catching on fire, she says. It was hard.
Her resolve to improve life, however, soared like the mountains around her shack, and she partnered with Habitat four years ago to build her own house. The hardships her family once endured now kindle her desire to help others.
Habitat for Humanity has been the greatest experience of my life, she says. Unless youve been there and lived in poverty, theres no way to really understand it. Its amazing the difference between then and now.
Today, Bowling is remarried and lives comfortably in her home with Sean and her husband, Glenn. During the Jimmy Carter Work Project held in the region in 1997, Bowling used her one-week vacation to help build daughter Andreas Habitat house, just a stones throw from her own.
Several years ago, Andrea dropped out of school to work and help make ends meet. Now 25, she has earned not only her high school diploma, but also CPR certification, emergency First Responder certification and is enrolled in nursing school. While not forgetting the obstacles she encountered in her former house, she eagerly works for a better life in the new onenot only for herself, but also for her 6-year-old son, Zack.
Habitat has been a true blessing, says Andrea, and its comforting to know that Zack will grow up safe and warm in my house.
Herman Newton, executive director for Lee County HFH, has witnessed the full transformation in the lives of these families and credits their pride, their diligence and their sacrifice for the difference.
I remember sitting in Charlottes old house and seeing my breath in front of me as I talked to her about Habitat, Newton says. When you look at this family, you really get a sense of what Habitat is all about. You can see lives completely changed.