Two families celebrate new Habitat homes

It’s not every day that a new homeowner moves into a new Habitat for Humanity home, and it’s even less common for two housewarmings to take place on the same day.

But that’s exactly what happened on Oct. 2, as Debra Brown turned the key to walk the hallways of her new home. Charles and Megan Free with their children, who live next door, did the same thing.

Debra Brown was all smiles as she opened the front door to her new home on Oct. 2. Recently constructed, her house was an initiative by Habitat for Humanity of East & Central Pasco County, along with its community partners. (Courtesy of Richard Riley)

They were celebrating along with Habitat of Humanity of East & Central Pasco, which held a double-home dedication on Blanton Street, in Dade City.

The event attracted scores of people to share in the homeowners’ joy.

Both homes were constructed through a program supervised by Habitat for Humanity of East &  Central Pasco County.

Beyond celebrating the homeowners’ new dwellings, the Habitat for Humanity branch is celebrating its 25th year of building homes in Pasco County.

“These keys represent hours and hours of sweat, hours of work, hours of dedication [and] hours of love,” said Laurel Weightman, Habitat development director. “It doesn’t just take hands, it takes community support.”

There was a separate housewarming ceremony at each of the homes, with gifts for each household.

The gift baskets were filled, item by item, as a scriptural text was read, representing each gift.

The GFWC Lutz-Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club contributed gardening supplies, a plant, books, food supplies, a first aid kit and fire extinguishers.

The club also gave back packs to each of the Free children, Keaton, Fallon and McKenna.

The East Pasco Quilters bestowed big, colorful quilts to the new residents of Blanton Street.

“We’ve had so much love and support from everybody all along the way,” Megan Free said, to the crowd assembled outside her home. “We really wouldn’t be where we are today without every one of you.”

In order to provide these homes, Habitat for Humanity relies on community partners, such as Catholic Charities, to help find the right candidates.

Habitat came across the Free family while they were being sheltered at a Catholic Charities facility.

The Free family children took an active role in cutting the traditional ribbon with gigantic scissors, before entering their new home. This was part of a double home dedication held on Oct. 2.

“Our circumstances were not the best, not making the money to survive on our own, with the always increasing living rates,” Charles Free said.

The couple had never owned their own home, and at times depended upon family support, he added.

Brown also faced hardships after moving to Dade City from West Palm Beach.

The phlebotomist, who also is a first-time homeowner, lived with her uncle for some time.

She sought out assistance from the Tampa Bay Community Development Corporation (CDC) and was soon referred to its collaborative partner, Habitat for Humanity.

Jere Ferguson is the director for Volunteer and Family Services at Habitat for Humanity of East & Central Pasco County.

He helped to approve Brown and the Frees for newly constructed homes that were financially suitable for them.

“The mortgage payment is capped at 30% of their income when they apply, and that never changes for the life of their mortgage,” the director explained.

This ensures the payments are manageable, so they can have funds available for other needs as well, Ferguson said.

Habitat is always thinking about long-term prosperity and that’s why Blanton Street was a good location for the homes, Ferguson explained.

Getting homeowners integrated into a safe and friendly environment is a priority, he added.

“Now what we started to do is build houses together,” Ferguson said. “Whether it’s two or three houses together, or a community of 14, so that they have each other to support and to stand with.”

And that’s why Brown and the Free family are now next-door neighbors.

For a year, the homeowners were helping to construct their new residences along with volunteers and construction crews.

Shaunce Gwinn was one of those volunteers.

“As I was walking through, I said to myself, ‘These are actual dream homes that we’re building and we’re making people’s dreams come true,’” Gwinn said.

Seeing the smiles on the homeowners’ faces makes him smile, too, he said.

Besides working on their own homes, the neighbors helped each other.

The homes were finished and ready for entry in September – 10 months after construction began.

The two homes have a similar layout. Upon entering, wooden floors lead to the dining and living rooms, as well as the hallway. The tiled kitchen is decked with marble counters, a stove, fridge, a built-in microwave and cabinets.

The hallway leads to the laundry room already supplied with a washer and dryer, then to a single bathroom and three bedrooms. The master bedroom has its own bathroom.

Looking around her new home, Brown said, “It’s something I worked towards for a long, long time.”

“Now I know how to build a house – a little bit,” she added, laughing.

In the Free household, the kids raced from room to room.

“It’s unbelievable, it’s amazing,” Charles Free said as he stood in one room. “Words can’t describe the feelings that I’m experiencing right now. We can’t wait to get in – just to have a place for the children to run and play.”

Published October 09, 2019

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