Habitat for Humanity: Students help change lives one family at a time

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ANDREW BACHRACH, MS STAFF WRITER

  The sound of hammers and saws echoes throughout the streets of downtown Winter Park. It’s a Saturday morning at the habitat house, and one volunteer’s life is about to change forever.

   It is Winter 2016. Tameka Maxwell, a 17-year Daycare worker, is working on painting the house when Hal George, President of Habitat for Humanity of Winter Park-Maitland, calls everybody over. George told the volunteers that somebody had reached over a hundred hours at the house. They announced that the house was now Tameka’s.

  “I was shocked,” Maxwell said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening. That really changed my life.”

  Maxwell was born and raised in Winter Park, Florida, but since she was young, she always wanted to get out of there.

  “If you remember, this used to be the ghetto,” she said. “I always wanted out. The only way that I was going back was if I got a house. And I did, and I’m back.”

  Maxwell currently lives with her daughter Auria, who is in the fourth grade, in the “Craig Maughan House,” built during the 2015-16 school year by Trinity Prep students and other Habitat volunteers. Habitat for Humanity Winter Park-Maitland has been building houses for the community for over 20 years. But according to Executive Director Kassi Bernard, houses are not very easy to get. There is a committee that selects from families with an income 30-60% less than the median.

  “This is a helping hand, not a handout,” she said. “They have to pay, and show their ability to pay. We are looking at families who need it, not if they want it. Another main component is partnership,” Bernard said. “It’s about what kind of people and the partnerships they convey. It’s about the relationships they convey with us. It’s kind of finding out, is this a good family we want to represent us. From her [Maxwell’s] relationship with her daughter, which is very close, and she had worked for a very long time in her job, which is not something we normally get.”

  Habitat and Trinity Prep have partnered to build more than 15 houses over the past two decades, and their partnership has gotten stronger and stronger.

  “When we are able to project this message to students, who are at the beginning of when they are learning about the world, before they go out into the world, they’ll remember it,” Bernard said. “There is an adult out here, and she remembers going to Habitat when she was in the 4th grade. She is now in her late 20s and she still loves Habitat.”

  Maxwell says she would not have had the house if it weren’t for Habitat and the people who helped her build it.

  “Thank you, thank you, thank you! They really did bless us,” she said.

  Habitat also gives applicants classes about credit and other things necessary to own a house.

  “They gave me classes on how to manage credit,” she said. “Before that, I had almost no idea what credit was. They also gave me a way to pay for the house. They gave me a mortgage that is very affordable.”

  Maxwell has also been volunteering at the current house, and is also doing something very special for the people who will be moving into the next house.

  “I help the family who will get the next house,” Maxwell said. “I take care of their kids, so that they can get the hours they need to work on the house.”

  Bernard also explains that the reason why so many people come out and volunteer at Habitat homes is because they want to help their community, just like TPS students do for the houses and what Maxwell does now for the next family.

  “I think that it’s the overall message that community helps community, and you’re one big family,” Bernard said. “Because you’re all in it together.”

  Before she was introduced to Habitat, Maxwell had never even heard of them. Now, she is a homeowner, and people still ask her about how she got the house.

  “I would tell them to apply, because a lot of people asked me how did you do it? I just signed up,” Maxwell said. “Just fill out the paperwork and just try. Get your credit right.”

 Maxwell still is shell-shocked that she owns a house. Everyday when she walks in, she can’t believe that this is all happening. The message that Habitat conveys is that community should help community. This is also the message that Maxwell gives.

  “I missed out on a lot of stuff, but if you want what you want, you gotta do what you gotta do,” she said. “Just do it, and find somebody that you know, and be a blessing to them.”