QA with Freddie Charleston: Habitat for Humanity begins fundraising campaign

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What has the Demopolis Area Habitat for Humanity group been up to lately?

We just redid our board. We got our board back and reorganized it. We&8217;ve been meeting, and the Trinity Episcopal Church has been nice enough to let us meet in their building. And I can&8217;t thank them enough, because ever since we&8217;ve gotten established they&8217;ve let us use their church for our meeting place. They&8217;ve been real nice in helping us with this.

When did the Demopolis Area Habitat for Humanity get started?

We really started back in 2002, but we got affiliated in 2003. The people that were instrumental in that were Jay Shows and Laura Foster. They did most of the legwork and Tom Boggs, of course, getting us set up and everything. Once we got affiliated, Regions Bank donated the land to build the first Habitat house.

When and where was the first house built?

The first house was built on E. Washington Street. Lavonne Blount Smith was the first recipient of the first Habitat house in Demopolis. We completed it right before Christmas of last year. She got in just before Christmas and we considered that her Christmas gift.

How does a person become the recipient of a Habitat house?

They go through a process. We have a committee called the family selection committee. What we do is we have an application day and we&8217;ll pick a location like for the first house it was the Demopolis High School auditorium. They all have to come out and fill out an application so we have all of their information. Then this committee will go through those applications and find out the family whose need is the most. We base it on need and not want. They will screen them down and then they will bring them before our board of directors. They will pick one and then they have an alternate in case something goes wrong with the first family. They have to have the ability to pay something; it&8217;s not just given to them. They have to put in sweat equity hours, which is hours before building has taken place and they also have to help build the house. So that gives them more pride and they feel like its theirs with them working on it, too. They also have to become affiliated with Habitat. That means they would come on board and keep our volunteers rotating. You can work as a board member, chair a committee and have to help build the next recipient&8217;s home too.

When is the next house project scheduled to start?

We&8217;ve been meeting and restructuring some to get our funds back up. The problem we&8217;re having right now is finding land. Land is our biggest issue. We&8217;re just starting our fundraising campaign. We should be doing some fund raising projects with our resource committee. This year we want to get more of our social and civic groups involved in this and more of the churches. Because it is a Christian organization, we want a lot of the churches to step up. We had a lot of people that put in a lot of time and money. And the majority of our churches didn&8217;t step up like we expected. We got a lot of calls from the universities and some of them are going to come over and help. The volunteer prospect is looking good.

How does volunteering work?

We basically train to restrain our work to the weekend so it won&8217;t conflict with a regular job and everything is on a volunteer and donation basis.

How did you come to be involved with the organization?

I joined this organization called CTO, Coming Together Organization, and they&8217;re a really good organization in town. Some of those members recommended me to Habitat. That&8217;s how I basically got involved. CTO has been around has been around 15 years, so they&8217;ve been around for a while. That&8217;s how I got involved with Habitat, is through them.

What is the biggest need for your next project?

Land. We need a place to start. And finances. Those two things will get us started. When we get the land, we can get our construction committee together. We basically want to have our hands on land before we select a family.

How is Habitat organized?

After the family is selected, we have four committees. There is the family support committee; they assist the family in all different types of needs. They may need transportation; they may need help understanding how to fill out paperwork. They may need someone to keep their kids, basically help them in whatever they need. We have the construction committee, where you have a supervisor and they&8217;ll oversee the building process. Then of course, you know, there is the resource committee that gets all of our funding. Then the site committee. Those are the main committees that help Habitat function.

How long does it take to see a house get built?

This first project was a learning process because it was the first one we ever did. We built it from the ground up. Now, if there is land available and what we do with that mortgage note is like in a wheel of rotating funds. We&8217;re taking that mortgage note money and putting toward this house and raising funds as well. A lot of houses are fabricated now. If we have land, we can have a house up in a month. If we can get the land available, then we looking at trying to get a rotation so that every quarter trying to build a house and increase our homes per year.

What kind of land do you look for?

We like to upgrade an area. Like, if there&8217;s an old home there, we can tear it down or have someone else tear it down. We&8217;ll build up in that area.

How do you think the Demopolis community has responded to the efforts so far?

The first time, they responded well. With so many projects and so many activities going on in Demopolis and the time of our first project through the summer times caught a lot of our volunteers doing other things with their families so that sort of slowed things down. But hopefully, with the students that are coming in this year and getting more social and civic groups and churches involved, we&8217;ll have a pretty good year.