Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ford Fiesta: Habitat for Humanity Team Build

Our August Ford Fiesta mission was probably the most rewarding one yet. Brad, Habitat for Humanity staff, a group of volunteers and myself met in Liberty City where we helped build a home for Nancy Bonise.

Nancy is a working mother of two boys and full-time student at FIU. On the day of our team build, she was already making the house her own by lending a hand in the construction process. It's only a matter of time before she can move in and turn it into a cozy home.

"The boys can't believe they're each getting a room of their own," she said laughing. "They're going to have to get used to so much space. They'll even have a yard that they can play in."

The home itself was a lot nicer than I thought it would be. Located next to a vacant lot, the spacious three-bedroom, one-bath property was already landscaped but still not wired for electricity or ready for kitchen appliances.

I recruited a couple of volunteers on Twitter, including TheTinyJewelBox, but also met a few great folks at Electric Pickle during a Miami New Times tweetup in July who were more than eager to join. Most of these tireless volunteers spent the hot, sweaty summer day hammering away on the roof. Others painted and spackled, while still others helped install closet shelves and doors. A project foreman instructed all of us on what to do.

In attendance were also other future Habitat homeowners. Part of their payment, in addition to a low-cost mortgage, is contributing volunteer hours for "sweat equity." The Habitat for Humanity model is really quite perfect. Most people might think the organization gives homes away for free, but that's not the case. Mortgage payments, which are based on the owner's income at the time of application, go towards the organization and building of more homes. With a low-cost mortgage, any financial prosperity a family enjoys can help with other important expenses in life, like college educations.

In this era of crazy foreclosure numbers, the whole thing is kind of ironic. Most people, actually -- not just impoverished folks -- could really use help with housing. And I want to emphasize again that Habitat for Humanity homeowners are hard working people. They're just buying a decent home at a very reasonable cost, which is something they would otherwise never be able to do without getting in over their heads under some crappy loan terms. And in this entire process, they're also giving back to others who will someday need the same break.

Prior to the team build day, I had toured a completed Habitat for Humanity neighborhood in Liberty City called Scott Carver. Each house looked different and displayed its owner's particular curb style, so it wasn't exactly cookie-cutter. It was simply amazing to see what can rise out of an otherwise vacant piece of land in a run-down part of Miami. It's not just homes that are being built, but better lives and the opportunity for dreams to come true.


On the team build day, Brad and I handed Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami a $500 gift on behalf of the Ford Fiesta movement.

The organization can always use cash contributions, but giving of your time and labor is probably one of the most rewarding things you can do -- you're literally making Miami-Dade a better place to live for your neighbors. I strongly encourage everyone to get involved. One great way to do so is to contribute cash and volunteer hours as a corporate team.

Some of the Fiesta movement volunteers loved the work so much, they went back the following week to help finish the roof! I want to thank all of you who volunteered with the Ford Fiesta team. You guys rock!

Follow Habitat for Humanity Miami on Twitter and visit Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami for more information.

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