banner image
The amazing places we find grace (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The amazing places we find grace (part 2)

‘Everybody wanted to help’


Volunteers with Genesee County Habitat for Humanity help with the heavy lifting on moving day for Shirley and Lillie Mae Godwin. Both mother and daughter have serious health issues, but are doing better since moving in more than two years ago. Photo courtesy of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity


Shirley Godwin, who has suffered disabling migraines, asthma and mini-strokes for most of her life, is overcome with emotion in November 2010 as she is helped up the driveway of the home she now shares with her 73-year-old mother. Photo courtesy of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity


Series homepage: Why We Build
| 1 | 2

The Godwins went to the Habitat office to tell their story. “I was crying, Mom was crying, the people from Habitat were crying,” Shirley said. By pooling their monthly Social Security checks, the Godwins could more than afford a zero-interest mortgage.

“When Habitat said they were going to build us a new home,” Shirley said, “our tears of sadness became tears of joy.”

At the time, Genesee County Habitat had signed on as a pioneer of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, a program of Habitat for Humanity International’s U.S. Office that supports efforts to rebuild and renew entire communities.

The program relies on residents and community partners’ taking leadership roles, better ensuring that progress continues after Habitat takes its work to another neighborhood. Genesee County Habitat had set its sights on Grand Traverse, a neighborhood near the heart of downtown Flint in dire need of revitalization.

Since then, Genesee County Habitat and its partners, including the Genesee County Land Bank, have built 20 houses and painted and landscaped seven others in Grand Traverse. Five of the new homes went up on the Godwins’ street.

“When you add a porch to someone’s house, you want them to be able to sit on it and enjoy the view around them,” said Margaret Kato, executive director of Genesee County Habitat.

All prospective homeowners are required to do hundreds of hours’ worth of “sweat equity” before qualifying for a home. Those hours can be spent on a Habitat construction site or, in cases of limited physical ability, in other forms of public service.

For their sweat-equity hours, the Godwins worked as teacher assistants at a local elementary school. “The kids just loved us,” Shirley said. “I was walking through the hall, and one little boy said, ‘My grandma wants to give you $25.’ Seemed like everybody wanted to help us.”

‘Anyone is welcome anytime’

In November 2010, 10 months after Lillie Mae and Shirley Godwin lost their family home, they put down roots in a new one. “I love everything about it,” Lillie Mae said. “And anyone is welcome anytime.”

Genesee County Habitat called its relationship with the Godwins a true partnership. “They are great advocates for Habitat,” said Juan Zuniga, program director. Habitat staff members often drop by to say hello.

“The lawn is always mowed,” Zuniga said, “and the house is always spotless.”

Life for the Godwins still has its anxious moments. Shirley struggles with her health. One recent day when her “legs didn’t want to work,” she said, she was especially thankful that her home is wheelchair-accessible.

And Lillie Mae, who has a weak heart, became seriously ill last year. Her heart is doing better now, but her mind continues to slip. Their one-story home gives both women peace of mind. “She can hear me, and I can hear her,” Shirley said. “And that’s a blessing to us.”

What the future holds is always unpredictable. But no matter, Shirley said, it will be filled with grace. Amazing grace.