March 2007

Working For Change - Area Realtors Join Hands with Habitat for Humanity

Author: Linda Hopkins

The shrill buzz of circular saws, accompanied by a cacophony of power tools, and the syncopated beat of countless hammers was a symphony to over 200 area realtors and affiliates of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors who gathered on Brendan Lane in mid-January. In spite of the cold rain and muddy backdrop, men and women of all ages, sizes and abilities flocked to the Bluffton neighborhood to help build a house. Nobody will get a commission for the sale. But everybody will get something in return: the satisfaction of helping a deserving family obtain a decent place to live.

According to Charles Sampson, Charter 1 realtor and chairman of the project, this is the sixth house for the association in partnership with the Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity. While part of the draw is an opportunity to network with other area professionals, most rewarding is giving back to the community, he said. The volunteers on site agreed. “I think it’s very important for people to be able to have a place to call home,” said Carol Geraghty, Community Events Coordinator for Weichert Realty.

In addition to the Realtor’s Association volunteers, a group of students on winter break from Colgate University in New York were on the scene, hammering to the sounds of a nearby boombox. “I thought it would be fun and also help someone,” said Lindsey Ward. Others agreed, adding that they were enjoying learning the skills and proud of what they were accomplishing.

A few more Brendan Lane lots await houses. When the project is finished, there will be a total of 61 Habitat houses in the neighborhood. “We desperately need more land,” said Patricia Carey, Executive Director of the local Habitat organization, pointing out that Beaufort County is the most expensive county in the state for housing. People who live in gated communities may be surprised to learn that just outside their carefully guarded neighborhoods, 27 percent of county residents are living in overcrowded or substandard housing. Many must sacrifice food, clothing and other basic needs just to pay their rent. These are the people who work in our restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and many other vital service capacities, she explained.

In an effort to improve living conditions for these families who are struggling to find affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity builds 12 houses per year. The non-profit organization operates strictly on donations of money, materials, land and labor, with all funds collected invested directly back into the program.

Although defined as a charitable organization, it’s not a giveaway program, explained Sampson. In addition to making a down payment and assuming a mortgage, the recipient families must contribute “sweat equity”—working to build their own houses or others or providing yard services, maintenance, repairs and other needed labor. New owners are also required to attend monthly homeownership workshops where they learn essential budgeting and home maintenance skills.

“People value what they work for,” said Carey, invoking the Habitat motto: “Give a hand up, not a hand out.” The goal is to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. By helping families secure decent housing, we can help change the world, starting right here at home.

Find out what you can do to help. Drop by the local Habitat office at 21 Brendan Lane, Bluffton, SC 29910 or call 843-757-5864.

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