Based on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live, Habitat for Humanity, since 1976, has been building dwellings for families that could never qualify for conventional loans.

According to a Habitat for Humanity publication, about 400,000 homes have been constructed over the past 34 years for people needing affordable housing. The concept was born in Koinonia Farm, a small interracial, Christian community near Americus, Ga., founded by Clarence Jordan in 1942.

A visit to Koinonia in 1965 prompted Millard and Linda Fuller of Montgomery, Ala., to leave their successful business and affluent lifestyle and dedicate themselves to begin what became Habitat for Humanity, a concept centered on those in need of adequate shelter working side by side with volunteers to build simple, decent houses.

Ellis County Habitat for Humanity representatives, Kathy Rushing, treasurer for the local organization and Mary Sword, president, shared with the Daily Light how they each became involved in the program.

“For me, it is about giving back to the community and doing what I can do to help families in time of need,” Sword said. “God has really been good to me and so if I can do something to be a blessing to others along the way, that’s what I want to do.”

Rushing agreed.

“Actually I’m involved in this for me – it really makes me feel good to know I’ve had a part in helping people to move into their own house,” Rushing said. “Typically, families that move into the Habitat homes can’t get conventional loans and to see their faces light up when their house is dedicated is a very emotional and happy occasion.”

 Rushing and Sword explained the process whereby residents are selected to inhabit one of the homes.

“First of all, the board goes over the applications that are submitted,” Sword said. “They consider the need, the ability to pay and a willingness to partner (with Habitat for Humanity.)”

The process for applicants can take up to two years or longer because they must agree to contribute 150 hours of “sweat equity” by volunteering to work on other home projects as well as their own. Some applicants will persevere and see the program through, abiding by the rules and contributing their volunteer hours; others will drop out of the process.

“The houses aren’t given for free – residents are set up on a payment schedule,” Rushing said. “The payments are interest-free and the process gives them the pride of ownership.”

Once a home is dedicated, the resident signs an interest-free mortgage with Habitat for Humanity, which also includes insurance coverage. Rushing noted that the organization will make concessions with residents who are struggling financially or trying to finish their education, but there have been occasions when residents refused to keep up with the payments and had to forfeit a house. When a house is forfeited, it is made available for other applicants, who go through the process of performing the volunteer labor.

“We take the monthly payments that are paid by the residents and ‘domino’ those dollars back into the next home to be built,” Sword said, saying all funds raised for Habitat for Humanity go into construction of the homes with the exception of expenses for a phone line and an occasional electrical expense. “We have no employees – and our office space is donated by Clay Jenkins. This is an all-volunteer organization.”

The Ellis County Habitat for Humanity board, which held its first meeting in 1999 and became affiliated with the national organization in 2000, had depended on garage sales and other fund-raisers to meet its financial goals, but in recent years, the only fundraiser held by Habitat is an annual concert held either at the Waxahachie Civic Center or the Ellis County Youth Expo building. The concert is performed by the Pit Pops, featuring Waxahachie native Gary French.

“We put on this big concert every year and it has been very profitable for us,” Sword said. “We also have sponsors to assist us in the event.”

The Ellis County organization averages building one house per year, with Rushing noting that the organization receives e-mails and phone calls from local residents inquiring about home repairs and remodels.

“The Habitat for Humanity in the Dallas area has a program like that, but we’re not able to do that at this time,” Rushing said.

At this time, the No. 1 priority locally is to secure the services of someone to oversee the construction.

“Michael Craig, who is the vocational teacher at Waxahachie High School, has served in this capacity, but he couldn’t continue to do it and teach too,” Sword said.

For information about volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in Ellis County or to volunteer to oversee construction, contact Sword at 214-364-2357. To obtain an application for a home, call 972-937-2797.

Contact Paul at paul.gauntt@wninews.com or 469-517-1450.