We usually profile ways to fix up your own home in our Weekend Warrior section, but this issue we thought it might be nice to share a way for readers to help out a neighbor in need. You can get your DIY home project fix as a volunteer with one of the First Coast’s regional Habitat for Humanity organizations. Anyone can volunteer—singles, families, corporate groups, church groups, military and other organizations. The construction team oversees everything and teaches the various tasks that volunteers need to do. So not only are you giving back, but perhaps learning some new skills during the experience that you can take back home with you.
Donna Rex, president of Beaches Habitat, says volunteers are needed now more than ever. Beaches Habitat recently partnered with the city of Atlantic Beach to develop the vacant property at the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Mayport Road into a community of 80 homes. The development will include a large recreation and park area, a community garden and a community and education center.
Rex says some people have the misconception that the homes are gifts, but that is not correct. All potential owners go through a qualifying process. They must live or work from St. Johns Bluff on the west and north to south from Mayport to Ponte Vedra Beach.
The candidates must have the income and the ability to pay the loan, but there is no interest. They are required to donate their time in sweat equity – working on the home 300 hours for a single parent and 400 hours for two parents.
Dariel Walker was looking for a loan so he could buy a house for himself and his 7-year-old son. He has decent credit but couldn’t find anything. On a whim, he reached out to Beaches Habitat, and he qualified. Walker expects to close on his new home in the Mayport fishing village in December or January.
Walker has had several spinal surgeries and is on disability. Because of his surgery, he couldn’t put his sweat equity into helping build his new home, but Beaches Habitat has lighter duty for people with disabilities, and he volunteered at Nourishment Network food bank. Walker visits the work site of his new home on a regular basis. He enjoys saying “hello” to the volunteers building his house and thanks each one.
Nancy Huang and Jane Weekes started the Women Build Program with Habitat for Humanity about 12 years ago. The group of women volunteers has built 14 homes and has as many as 50 women involved.
“I love doing things with my hands,” Huang says. “I love being able to help someone who may never have gotten a shot to have their own home – a stable place to live. It’s hard physical work, but we continue to do it because that gratifying feeling at the end of the day is great. We even get to meet the people who will live in the house.”
The group is primarily 55 years old and up, with a few women in their 70s.
Michael McCarthy has been volunteering with Beaches Habitat for 10 years. He is a senior project manager at Haskell and says on a number of occasions he has invited coworkers to join him, and the experience has been positive for all involved.
“Doing work for Habitat, you can easily see the physical results of your day’s work,” he says. “You can see it once it’s built, and years later you can come back and still see it. It’s something I enjoy doing.”