The Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity was recently awarded a $5 million grant from American author and philanthropist Mackenzie Scott. The grant is part of a $436 million donation to 83 U.S. Habitat affiliates, including eight in North Carolina.
The FAHFH branch covers Cumberland, Bladen and Sampson counties. The grant will allow them to continue their work in those locations and expand into Robeson County.
The organization has been around since 1988, but they have made significant progress in providing affordable housing more recently.
“In the last 34 years, we’ve built a little over 200 homes, but 25% of those homes have been built in the last three years,” said CEO Ron Gunter. “As you’re well aware, we had Hurricanes Matthew and Florence that came through, and for about four years there, we didn’t build a single home. We did nothing but repairs for homes and mainly have had homeowners that [whose homes] were built in lower-lying areas of the city.”
In 2019, FAHFH began construction on a community of 47 homes called Oak Ridge Estate. Nine homeowners are local veterans, and 15 of the families were impacted by hurricanes.
“We’ll be finishing up Oak Ridge in June and begin moving to another part of town with more construction to build clusters of homes, anywhere from five to seven to eight homes at a time, hoping to facilitate change and strengthen and revitalize those parts of the community and the neighborhood,” he said. “Our goal is to build as many homes as we can in affordable housing.”
FAHFH helps low-income families become homeowners, but they provide more than just a house. They also offer courses to help families with the challenges of homeownership.
They have 35 online and in-person classes covering banking, insurance and home repair from experts who volunteer time.
“We try to have a holistic approach to our homeowners,” he said. “We want to help them not only get into their homes but stay in their homes.”
When someone qualifies for a home, they must commit 300 sweat equity hours. These volunteer hours combine classroom instruction, working on their future home or volunteering at ReStore, Habitat’s home improvement store.
Gunter has seen firsthand the dedication and hard work the families put into securing their homes. He recalled the emotional move-in day for a single mom of three who went through chemotherapy while still contributing her sweat equity hours to construct her house.
“To watch tears flow from her face and say, ‘I’m not going to move anymore,’” he said. “That’s why we do what we do. That’s the full payment for us. We get to stand and dedicate that home, commit that home, give them the key. And they’re now the homeowner that makes all the difference in the world.”
The FAHFH has 14 employees covering everything from community relations to family services to finances. They also have five employees at the local ReStore. They consider themselves a small but mighty team that works well together for the greater good.
“That’s one thing that’s very important: there are no ‘lone rangers’ in the Fayetteville area Habitat. We’re all part of the team, and it takes all of us working together (and it’s a lot of hard work), but it’s a great team,” Gunter said. “They all step up to do whatever’s needed to get the job done.”
The team will commemorate the completion of Oak Ridge Estates with a fundraising event, Framing the Future, on June 26. They will also be honoring Gunter on his retirement and welcoming a new CEO, Brandon Price, their current compliance and advocacy officer.
“We want to celebrate the amazing work that Ron has done in the past three years with Oak Ridge and his retirement,” said FAHFH Director of Marketing April De Leon. “And everybody that’s worked with us in the past three years, all of our vendors that have helped construct the homes [are] invited … we’re inviting the city out to celebrate all the good work that’s been done in Cumberland County.”
Framing the Future will be held June 26 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Sweet Valley Ranch, 2990 Sunnyside School Road. Tickets are $100 for individuals, and sponsor tables for eight or more are still available.
Visit www.fayettevillenchabitat.org to learn more about the organization and upcoming events.