Habitat leader at Cathedral of St. Philip lauded for 10 years of service

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Building a house is a mammoth task that involves detailed planning, financing and patience. It’s an even more daunting job when the work crews are all volunteers with just seven Saturdays to finish the job.

That’s the challenge John Champion faces as the head of the Habitat Committee at the Cathedral of St. Philip. The Chastain Park resident recently marked 10 years of volunteer service that includes coordinating dates and build locations with Habitat staff, arranging for volunteers and making sure everyone gets lunch.

Champion got involved with the outreach at the behest of his wife, Penelope Malone, a cathedral member who was part of the Habitat food team that prepares lunch. His first project was in 2001, and he recently finished work on his 16th house.

“I actually got engaged with the church because of its Habitat program,” said Champion, a senior partner with the Kurt Salmon management consulting firm. “I do like building and construction, and I’m pretty handy. I’m one of those self-taught guys who can fix things around the house. But I was very impressed with Habitat and the idea of giving home ownership to people who couldn’t afford it otherwise. They do a great job transforming neighborhoods in the city and changing lives. It’s an incredible win-win.”

In addition to being the church’s committee chair, Champion serves on the Atlanta Habitat’s Ambassador Team, a job that involves partnering with other area churches to sponsor a house. Even though the homes are low-cost for the owners, they are not inexpensive to build.

“It costs our committee about $10,000 to sponsor a home, so we’re always looking for funding,” said Champion. “But the real challenge is getting enough volunteers. We need about 40 to 50 to build a house.”

Champion has spent the last few weeks overseeing the construction of the cathedral’s 25th Habitat house since the congregation began building homes in 1996. The accomplishment, completed in partnership with Shallowford Presbyterian, Holy Innocents Episcopal, Wieuca Road Baptist and Big Bethel AME churches, marked another honor for Champion when the crews decided to dedicate the house to him.

“When we dedicate our work in honor of a person, it’s usually someone who has given a good bit of time, passion and energy,” said committee member Judy Bodner. “John doesn’t ever want to take credit for himself, but during the 10 years he has been our chairman, we have really blossomed. John has taken the lead in reaching out to the other churches, making sure plans are in place and getting the volunteers we need. It takes a lot of time and effort to do what he does.”

Cathedral team member Henry Benson echoed that support.

“Habitat is John’s baby,” he said. “He believes in it and is really dedicated to it. He is an outstanding leader, and we won’t ever let him leave.”

Though he has never missed a build or a dedication ceremony, the one to be held on June 15 in Champion’s honor will go on without him.

“We usually build in March, and we got out of sequence on this on. And, meanwhile, I had planned a trip out of the country,” said Champion. “But the best part is giving deserving homeowners a place to safely raise their families, improving their lives and the communities they live in.”