Atlanta Habitat for Humanity unveils first 2-story home

Mother, 12-year-old son are first in their family to own a home
Shaquanna Denson and her 12-year-old son, Terence, plan to move into their new home on Oct. 2.

Shaquanna Denson and her 12-year-old son, Terence, plan to move into their new home on Oct. 2.

It was a day of firsts: An Atlanta mother will be the first in her family to own a home. For Habitat for Humanity, it’s the Atlanta chapter’s first time building a two-story home.

While volunteers put final touches on her new home Saturday, Shaquanna Denson noticed how the blue siding, trimmed in crisp white, blended perfectly with the sky. Denson’s 12-year-old son, Terence, picked out the color, along with the floors inside the home he’ll share with his mother.

For months, Denson has gone through the process of becoming a Habitat homeowner, including taking classes on home maintenance, and she’s put in 250 hours of “sweat equity” on her own house and others. Denson’s mother, several family members and friends were at the home for the ribbon-cutting, along with Habitat leaders. Now, she’s counting the days until she can move in: Oct. 2.

“We’re gonna ride by every day,” Denson said. “Make sure it’s still here.”

Shaquanna Denson (right) thanks Habitat for Humanity and others who helped build a new home for her and her son. (Photo: Alexis Stevens/

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The 1,600-square-foot, four-bedroom home already blends in perfectly in the Lakewood Heights neighborhood. A sprinkler watered the fresh sod as volunteers wiped away sweat from the final push to finish the home.

There were doctors, a Ph.D. student, Realtors and other volunteers who wanted to give back and chose Habitat as a way to do that.

“Building a house for a family changes the entire legacy for that family,”  said real estate agent Lisa Black. “A safe place to call home is the right of every human being.”

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Black and her colleague, Sarah Chatel, belong to a nonprofit group called Giveback Homes, which partners with Habitat to help build homes for low-income families. Other volunteers included Cameron Ahmad, a Georgia Tech mechanical engineering student working toward a Ph.D., who volunteered as a stress reliever.

Billy Walker, an epidemiologist, has lived in the Atlanta area about a year since moving from Colorado, where he also volunteered. For the past two Saturdays, Walker helped install soffits on the front porch of Denson’s home.

“I like helping people and this is a way for me to do it,” he said.

Though Atlanta Habitat has previously only built one-story homes, the new two-story design offered more space while remaining energy-efficient, according to Lisa Gordon, president and CEO of the local chapter.

Volunteer Ellen Behm puts the finishing touches on the mailbox Saturday afternoon at a Habitat for Humanity home in southwest Atlanta. (Photo: Alexis Stevens/

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“We want to build a house that anyone would want to live in,” Gordon said.

Contractors handled things like electrical and plumbing work, she said. But more than 125 volunteers did the rest over several Saturdays.

Dan Maddox, executive vice president and chief operations officer for Atlanta Habitat, and his family sponsored the new home in honor of their late parents. Many members of the Maddox family also attended Saturday’s home reveal. Because of the home sponsorship along with the volunteer efforts, Denson will have an affordable, interest-free mortgage.

“I thank God for putting you in my heart to be a blessing for my family,” Denson said.

Now, Denson said, she’s looking forward to another first. In November, she’ll host her first Thanksgiving at her new home. Her mother, Mary, along with her three sisters and their families will all be there.

“We are all gonna be cooking,” Mary Denson said.