Opinion: Pandemic brought a renewal of the spirit to build together

Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Metro Atlanta and students from Alexander High School hammered the first nails and raised the first walls on a very special house on Military Way in Veterans Place Saturday, August 7. 
The group of students began their fundraising efforts in 2019, and after reaching their goal at the beginning of 2020, had to wait though pandemic delays for another year. They began by talking to a teacher and founding the Habitat for Humanity Chapter at Alexander High School. Next, theyheld bake sales, car washes, and every fundraising event possible to reach their goal — dollar by dollar — to build a house for a Veteran. A local attorney was so inspired by their efforts, he donated enough money from the Winn Family Foundation to put them over the finish line.   
The new homeowner is Steve Harris, a disabled Veteran who served in the Army from 1977-1980. He and his fiancée, Jane Kellogg, have been together for more than 30 years, and their life together has not always been easy. As recently as six years ago, they were both homeless and living out of their car.  
Through prayer, hard work, and much sacrifice, they were able to save to afford an apartment, in which they have lived for the past five years. After the Veterans Administration referred them to Habitat, Steve and Jane worked hard to earn the opportunity to become homeowners.

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Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Metro Atlanta and students from Alexander High School hammered the first nails and raised the first walls on a very special house on Military Way in Veterans Place Saturday, August 7. The group of students began their fundraising efforts in 2019, and after reaching their goal at the beginning of 2020, had to wait though pandemic delays for another year. They began by talking to a teacher and founding the Habitat for Humanity Chapter at Alexander High School. Next, theyheld bake sales, car washes, and every fundraising event possible to reach their goal — dollar by dollar — to build a house for a Veteran. A local attorney was so inspired by their efforts, he donated enough money from the Winn Family Foundation to put them over the finish line. The new homeowner is Steve Harris, a disabled Veteran who served in the Army from 1977-1980. He and his fiancée, Jane Kellogg, have been together for more than 30 years, and their life together has not always been easy. As recently as six years ago, they were both homeless and living out of their car. Through prayer, hard work, and much sacrifice, they were able to save to afford an apartment, in which they have lived for the past five years. After the Veterans Administration referred them to Habitat, Steve and Jane worked hard to earn the opportunity to become homeowners.

The saying that no man or woman is an island seems fitting for our experience of navigating a very devastating and disruptive pandemic.

The disruption to our daily lives has happened in a myriad of ways that seem endless. Yet, the things in life we took for granted just a few years ago are our highest priority right now. We are making time for our friends and family, taking care of our neighbors, reconnecting with colleagues, and realizing that we can make a difference when we come together to solve our most pressing problems.

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Lisa Y. Gordon

Credit: contributed

Lisa Y. Gordon

Credit: contributed

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Lisa Y. Gordon

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Collectively, we can do so much more when we are out of our silos. Our very existence depends on finding new ways to work together. I am most thankful that I have witnessed a renewed commitment to our community and a hunger for new solutions to address the critical issues created by systemic poverty, including the need for a safe, decent place to live.

Over the last year, coming together for Atlanta Habitat has meant a renewal of building together as the COVID-19 pandemic receded. Instead of large gatherings and engaging with over 12,000 volunteers, we had small, safe gatherings of groups. This created an intimacy with our mission, helping us realize that even in a crisis, the synergy of people working together can create change, sometimes incrementally, but always transformative.

More importantly, thanks to the support of friends of Habitat, including our donors, strong corporate partners and the philanthropic community, we were able to prevent massive foreclosures for homeowners who had been successful at meeting their mortgage obligations pre-COVID. There was a focus on not losing the very people who had overcome barrier after barrier to achieve the dream of homeownership, but also serving the growing pipeline of need exacerbated by the home becoming a place of work, school, fine home-cooked dining and worship.

Our military veterans and seniors who needed home repairs patiently waited for us to reach them in safe ways, even sheltering safely on their porches or in their cars while repairs were made to their homes that ensured they were safe, dry and accessible. As this work was completed, we witnessed tears of joy and saw the immediate impact on the people who anchor many of our most challenging communities. They have given back by their service to our country and communities.

We are most excited about coming out of this storm and facing the future with bold intent to continue the collaboration that began with nonprofits, corporate and philanthropic partners to find innovative solutions to build our community. As we do our part to provide more housing opportunities, we will welcome our new neighbors at our affordable home community at Browns Mill Village and embrace our future with an appreciation of the opportunity to serve and reconnect with volunteers who remind us that, by working together, we can make a difference.

Lisa Y. Gordon is president and CEO of Atlanta Habitat for Humanity.

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