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The Families of Carney Place: Chapter 6

“We have become family. This is truly a loved community.”
By Phil Kloer


Sharmain Thomas and her daughter Liyah walk up Trellis Court to the five-house dedication held by Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. Photo by Greta Bush, Asheville Area HFH


Rabbi Batsheva Meiri of Congregation Beth HaTephila hugs homeowner Tanya Presha after presenting her with a symbolic key to her new home. Photo by Phil Kloer/Habitat for Humanity


Brigitte Basham moved into her new Habitat home in November with son Cody and daughter Cheyana. Photo by Phil Kloer/Habitat for Humanity


The sun was setting on an unseasonably warm late winter’s day at Carney Place, Habitat for Humanity’s newest neighborhood in Asheville, North Carolina.

The cul-de-sac was overflowing with people, as the families who already live there poured out into the street to mix with soon-to-be-neighbors, volunteers, sponsors, guests and Habitat staff.

Everyone slowly gravitated toward the Interfaith House on the corner — sponsored by 14 local faith organizations including Catholic, Jewish, Unitarian and Bahai — for the dedication of five new homes.

One by one, sponsors handed over symbolic keys to the partner families. New homeowner Maria Lomeli couldn’t be there because she had to work, so her three teenage children shyly stood in for her.

Sharmain Thomas brought her children, Khalil and Liyah, and her grandmother, Willie Mae Thomas, who has been helping out while Sharmain earns her Habitat sweat-equity hours.

Rabbi Batsheva Meiri of Congregation Beth HaTephila, one of the Interfaith House sponsors, spoke briefly. “Each one of you already had keys, because you unlocked the hearts and souls of all of these people who are here today and all of the other people who are part of this journey you have taken to becoming homeowners.

“When you actually do get your real key, understand that each and every time you open the door, you’ve turned a little bit inside of people’s hearts at the very same time.”

Homeowner Tanya Presha spoke on behalf of the five families, and started out as so many people do at dedication ceremonies: “I said, ‘I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry.’”

She swallowed her tears, took a breath, and spoke from the heart. “We thank you — the volunteers, the friends, the families. I love the construction staff. They have empowered us to make us feel like we actually built our own homes, and in a sense we have. Over the past six to eight months, my neighbors and I have become friends. We have become family. This is truly a loved community.”

It has been a year since ground was broken at Carney Place, and the development is on track to be finished by the end of 2012. Of 22 homes planned, eight now are occupied, and more new homeowners will be moving in soon.

Brigitte Basham is among the new residents of Carney Place. A year ago, the single mother of two was renting an old farmhouse outside Asheville and paying huge heating bills. In November 2011, she moved into a Habitat home with her son, Cody, 15, and daughter Cheyana, 12. Now she pays less for her Habitat mortgage than she had been paying in rent, and is saving substantially on her utility bills.

She was one of six Carney Place families who let their homes be part of an open house, so sponsors and volunteers could see what the families had done with their bare walls. She proudly showed off how she had decorated her home, and how immaculate the kids have kept their bedrooms.

As twilight fell, Cody went out to the portable basketball goal at the foot of the Bashams’ driveway, and several neighborhood kids gathered around to shoot baskets. The families of Carney Place were falling into place.

Read the entire story of The Families of Carney Place is following the families of Carney Place, the volunteers who build the houses and the Asheville, N.C., Habitat affiliate as the neighborhood moves from an abandoned field to a community of families living in their new homes. Check back for future installments.