By Jessica Brodie
LEXINGTON—A church in the Midlands is celebrating with two families this summer as they reached a long-awaited milestone: home ownership.
On July 14, Central South Carolina Habitat for Humanity hosted a dedication and ribbon cutting to commemorate the beginning of these families’ new chapter, as well as thank the many partners who helped make their homes possible. The partnership included not only Habitat and the two homeowners—Soshonna and her three sons, DaJuan, Naheim and Elijah, and Wakeelah and her son, Orion—but also volunteers and donors from Mount Horeb United Methodist Church, allies and participants in CIRCLES® Lexington County, and many local businesses that stepped up to offer resources and expertise.
“Especially because of COVID and all the additional challenges individuals and the community are facing right now, seeing these two ladies overcome incredible obstacles to achieve their dream gave hope to me and to everyone in attendance,” said Janis Albergotti, missions director at Mount Horeb UMC, noting the experience brought her overwhelming joy. “We count it a great privilege to be part of these homeowners’ lives and to see the faith community, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals all working together to create something beautiful that changes lives.
“It’s a picture of God’s Kingdom working the way I believe God designed it to work.”
The Habitat build was funded thanks to a generous offering Mount Horeb UMC brought in for Advent 2019, which was designated to help with affordable housing both locally and globally. Mount Horeb worked with Habitat and CIRCLES®, a poverty elimination program, on the homes, all supplying volunteers who labored hands-on to build the two houses.
Work began in March on the two homes, which are on a lot in Lexington right next to each other, but COVID-19 forced volunteer teams to stop partway. However, work soon resumed, and teams completed the homes only four to six weeks past their original target.
“I was really impressed,” said Kristina Killman, missions administrator at Mount Horeb, who helped work on both the homes. “Everybody was so kind, and I’ve never worked with so many volunteers all willing to help, volunteer, do all the little things. Everybody was just in it for whatever the greater good needed, all positive and fun and working really hard.”
Killman said seeing the look on the homeowners’ faces at the celebration made all that hard work even more fulfilling.
“Soso was bubbling over the top—she was so excited! And Keelah, just seeing her made me happy,” Killman said. “It’s just a really good picture of what a unified community can accomplish together.”
Mount Horeb members Martha and Dick Thompson said helping to build the homes gave them a sense of great joy.
“Our small time of effort that contributed to the amazing joy for these families was worth everything we contributed,” Martha Thompson said.
Dubbing them “Soso and Keelah, the wonder women,” Mount Horeb said the two women have been working tirelessly towards financial self-sufficiency as Circle Leaders and completed a two-year process with Habitat that included both educational modules and sweat equity.
An answered prayer
Homeowner Wakeelah said the experience has been an answered prayer for her and her son, and she is beyond grateful.
“I remember praying to be able to tap into resources beyond my own capabilities, resources that could exceed where my resources ended,” Wakeelah said. “Pieces and parts of this partnership of resources, this invaluable social capital, came together in a way that were surely an answered prayer. We all serve a specialized purpose and that we were not meant to do things alone.”
Homeowner Soshonna said her heart is overwhelmed by the love and generosity she has received after what she said was a long journey of uncertainty.
“From the moment I was granted a sponsor and discovered Mount Horeb was the blessing that was sent, I knew immediately that God was in the mix,” Soshonna said, noting the church planted seeds of prosperity, faith, hope and love, and CIRCLES® watered those “seeds” and helped them further grow and soar. “Now we stand, firmly planted, nurtured and supported by a community of God’s children. Equipped and ready, we are able to walk through the doors of a new beginning thanks to you.
“I can finally give my children that safe and loving home that will forever be theirs. Never again will we have the worries of homelessness and insecurity because this amazing body of people has ensured that will be a distant memory in the past.”
Breaking down barriers
Albergotti said affordable housing is a huge problem facing many in Lexington County, as well as across the state and nation.
“Affordable housing is really a barrier for many of our neighbors living in Lexington County and we want to bring opportunities for homeownership for folks who are ready for it,” Albergotti said, noting affordable transportation and affordable childcare are the two other major obstacles for families.
She lifted up the work of CIRCLES®, especially, which attempts to work with the community at-large to identify systemic barriers keeping neighbors trapped in poverty.
“It’s a really good fit for the church,” she said about the Habitat- CIRCLES®-Mount Horeb partnership.
Don’t put your hammers down yet
Best of all, Albergotti and Killman said, their work is just getting started. Between the Advent offering and in-kind donations from local businesses, Mount Horeb is able to fund three more homes.
Habitat sets the timeframe, and the church is planning to complete two more homes in spring 2021.