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A helping hand: Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity continues outreach in Savannah

Since 1983, Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity has partnered with more than 130 families in Chatham County to help them realize their dream of owning an affordable home, and this year the nonprofit aims to add seven more local families to that list.

“We believe that every person deserves a decent place to live,” said Executive Director Harold Tessendorf, who was the guest speaker at the Tourism Leadership Council’s monthly luncheon on Thursday at Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.

Annually, the nonprofit contributes nearly $3 million to the local economy and volunteers spend more than 7,500 hours each year on projects aimed to place families in energy-efficient homes in safe and revitalizing neighborhoods.

“… Our families help to stabilize the neighborhoods where they live because they invest interest there, so they’re not only helping their own family, they’re helping the families around them as well,” he said.

Habitat is a large piece of the solution when it comes to providing one of life’s most basic necessities to people that might not qualify for traditional bank loans, said TLC President Michael Owens.

“It’s extraordinarily affordable. Someone making middle wages or even lower wages could afford to own their own home,” Owens said, adding that he hoped the presentation inspired those in attendance to volunteer and get involved with the organization.

“It seems to me that it is such a really brilliant piece of the solution that we need to be looking toward as a community when we start talking about workforce housing.”

All Habitat homeowners undergo a selection process, homeowner education classes and contribute 350 hours of sweat equity working on the construction of their home, which can include painting, landscaping and even putting up walls. The home is then sold at no profit and no interest to Habitat families.

“I helped plant trees, put the grass down, and I painted the inside. We worked on everything. I can tell you everything about my house,” said Habitat homeowner Wilma Rivers, who got the keys to her home in 2011.

“When I turn the key, I know I have something I’ve achieved, worked for and earned.”

For Rivers, the most important thing is having a home she can pass on to her children while showing them the positive outcome of hard work and dedication.

“You don’t want to pay someone every month for something that’s not yours and you don’t always have a good (landlord),” she said of renting.

“… It was rough for a while, but knowing that you’re going to get something that you work hard for and it’s something that you can leave for your kids, is even better.”

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For more information or to volunteer with Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity, go to www.habitatsavannah.org.

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