Durham Habitat celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Once called an idealistic, utopian dream, Habitat has built more than 320 homes in Durham, and has repaired hundreds more.
The early days were challenging, and there was much discussion about whether a no-interest, no-profit homebuilding model made sense. Many said it couldn’t work.
Visionary leaders who founded Durham Habitat pushed forward despite the heavy skepticism. Rev. Joe Harvard, former pastor of Durham's First Presbyterian Church and a founding leader, said, "The Habitat train is leaving the station. If you want to join, you better get on board."
The train started slowly and then picked up speed – by its third year, 1988, Habitat had built three houses. In 2005, our 20th year, we built our 150th house. It took just nine more years to build the next 150 houses; we sold our 300th last January and the Habitat train rolls on.
But Habitat is about more than houses. It’s about partnerships.
Habitat partnerships start with hard-working families who find time in their busy lives to earn 250-400 hours of sweat equity building Habitat homes in lieu of a cash down payment. Our partnerships include volunteers, 8,000 a year, who donate labor to build, and money to buy building materials and the lots on which we build. And Habitat partnerships include many community groups with whom we collaborate.
Habitat is about neighborhoods and community. Almost a year ago today, Mayor Bill Bell declared Durham’s Fight against Poverty with its focus in Northeast Central Durham (NECD). Since then, Durham Habitat partners have built or rehabbed 12 homes, with more coming, in a three-block area near Joe’s Diner. Streets here are on their way to change; the 12 new Habitat families on these streets make change possible. As one Habitat homebuyer said, “When Habitat comes into a neighborhood, you know it’s going to change. The bad goes out. The bad has got to find a new place.”
Most importantly, Habitat is about the kids.
I’m often overwhelmed by the selflessness of so many of our partners, and I wonder why people give so much. For many, including me, it’s about the kids. People come to Habitat because of kids like AJ and Jaz who grew up in Habitat homes and are now at college. More than 750 kids have brighter futures because their parents worked so hard to build and buy their Habitat homes -- because Habitat partners offered a hand up, not a hand out.
As one Habitat partner said simply, ‘Habitat. It’s about love.”
Screenwriter and director Randall Wallace, who wrote “Braveheart,” said, "Habitat for Humanity is a perpetual-motion miracle. Everyone who receives, gives -- and everyone who gives, receives. If you want to stay complacent and uninspired, stay away from Habitat! Come close to Habitat and it will change you and make you a part of something that changes the world."
As we begin 2015, Durham Habitat’s 30th year, the Habitat community has a lot to be proud of; we’ve accomplished much. But the need is still great, and our community has not yet won its Fight Against Poverty. Join us in 2015 and be a part of something that changes lives. Be a part of something that changes Durham. Be a part of something that will change you! www.durhamhabitat.org
Blake Strayhorn is executive director of Durham Habitat for Humanity.