Originally created 08/31/96

Habitat helps others rebuild lives



One job.

Four mouths to feed.

No savings.

And no way Deborah Wimberly could add a house payment to her family finances.

She was tired of living under the hand of a landlord who refused to make repairs but continued to charge high rent. She wanted her own home, but it seemed that she and her three children would live forever in rental housing.

And then she found out about Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit ministry that provides houses through no-interest loans to families who would otherwise be unable to afford a home of their own.

The Westside High School lunchroom worker applied for a Habitat home and was accepted.

"I was at work one day and one of the teachers involved with Habitat for Humanity came up to me and told me I was selected for a house," she said.

"I was shocked, surprised and very happy. But after that I was ready to build my house and put in my 500 hours worth of sweat that is required out of every applicant," she said.

She was there when the first trees were cut until the last coat of paint was applied to her three-bedroom home. She even got married in her house.

"I'm just so proud that the Lord gave me this chance to put a roof over my children's heads. I was here the whole way and know that this house is made out of a whole lot of love, caring and sharing," Mrs. Wimberly said.

The Wimberly home is one of 25 Habitat houses in Augusta. Aiken's Habitat chapter has built 17 homes since its inception eight years ago.

This week, Habitat celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Founded in Americus, Ga., in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat for Humanity International has more than 1,200 affiliates in 50 states and more than 250 international affiliates coordinating some 800 building programs in nearly 50 countries.

"Our philosophy is the theology of the hammer - putting God's love into action through helping families build their own homes so that they may have a simple, decent place to lay their heads at night," said Jill Xenakis, affiliate assistant for Augusta Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat is a business, church and civic partnership, said Mrs. Xenakis.

"Many churches in our area have Habitat as one of their ministries, and they make a commitment to come out once a month to work with Habitat," she said.

But business and civic organizations also are involved and often provide volunteers to work on weekends, she said.

Habitat for Humanity International is marking its anniversary with a celebration through Sunday at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta.

Events include a 130-mile walk from Americus to Atlanta, bicycle rides, a vespers service, a variety of workshops and seminars, an anniversary party and a concert featuring Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Harry Belafonte and Jeff Foxworthy.

During the week beginning Monday, Habitat for Humanity's home base affiliate in Americus will build 20 homes in Atlanta.

Members of the Augusta chapter will travel to Atlanta and help with the Atlanta project, Mrs. Xenakis said.

With more than 2,000 volunteers locally, Habitat for Humanity strives to rebuild lives through God, as well as rebuild homes.

"We believe that rebuilding lives through Christ's love is a matter of conscience, not a matter of will," Mrs. Xenakis said.

"And God, several times in scripture, has called us to help others. ... Each one of us that volunteers with Habitat puts our faith into action to help those who are in need create a better life for themselves so that, in turn, they may serve the Lord and continue to help themselves, as well as help others," she said.

Goals for the Augusta chapter include building six houses a year and having a mass-building project similar to the one in Atlanta, Mrs. Xenakis said.

Ownership begins with filing an application with a local Habitat affiliate.

A family selection committee makes its recommendations based on a family's level of need, its willingness to become partners in the program and its ability to repay the loan.

Through volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materi als, Habitat builds a new house or renovates an existing structure. The houses are sold to partner families, which take out a 20-year mortgage for the $35,000 home and volunteer 500 hours building their home.

Some partners, like Mrs. Wimberly, become active in providing homes to other families.

"I like to see people get ahead, and this helps people to have something of their own," she said. "Plus, it's something to look forward to and you feel better about yourself knowing that you've learned how to do so many things and helped so many people."

But, she also does it to spread the word of God.

"I continue helping people because if it weren't for the Lord, I would not be where I am today, and I want other people to believe and trust in the Lord. That way they can be all they can be," Mrs. Wimberly said.

Getting in touch:

The Augusta Habitat for Humanity holds open board meetings every second Thursday of the month and open informative general meetings every fourth Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church on Walton Way. Potential homeowners can only apply for a home once a quarter. For more information, call Mrs. Xenakis at 481-8681.

The Aiken Chapter of Habitat for Humanity holds board meetings every third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at St. John's United Methodist Church, Newberry Street. For more information, call Susan French at (803) 642-9295.