Homegrown Hope: Habitat for Humanity makes dreams reality
Updated: Jul 12
This article was first published as the cover story in the February edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication
By Bruce Deckert — Today Magazine Editor-in-Chief
Home is where the heart is — this saying is as familiar as a mother-daughter trip to the store, or a father-son chore, or a welcome mat at a family’s front door.
Countless household sayings connect with the concept and reality of home — and they offer clues vis-à-vis how deeply the yearning for a true home resonates in human hearts. Here are five more maxims among the abundant home quotes to be found via a simple Google search:
• There’s no place like home.
• Home is where our story begins.
• A house is made of walls and beams — a home is built with love and dreams.
• Home sweet home.
• Who says you can’t go home?
Habitat for Humanity takes these sayings to heart and makes the dream of home a reality for families who otherwise would find homeownership as elusive or impossible as climbing Mount Everest.
An internationally active nonprofit organization, “Habitat for Humanity partners with people in your community, and all over the world, to help them build or improve a place they can call home,” according to the Habitat.org website. “Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage.”
Accordingly, Habitat homeowners invest significant sweat equity in their homes and are responsible for a monthly house payment — like every other American with a mortgaged home.
“The biggest misconception [about Habitat] is that our homeowners are given a house,” says Karraine Moody, CEO of the local Habitat affiliate.
“The reality is that they have a 0% interest mortgage held by Habitat for Humanity, and they have to work to keep their home. … Our motto: Habitat is a hand-UP, not a handout.”
Established in 1989, the local Habitat affiliate was known for years as Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity, but has rebranded as Habitat for Humanity of North Central Connecticut because its coverage area now includes Tolland County as well as Greater Hartford. The affiliate is still headquartered in Hartford.
“It is important to correct the misconception because we want to give our homeowners credit,” says Moody, who has been CEO since January 2014.
The international Habitat for Humanity operation has hundreds of affiliates — in all 50 U.S. states and about 70 countries, per the Habitat.org website. Each local affiliate is an independent nonprofit organization that coordinates Habitat building in its area.
Habitat for Humanity International was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in 1976, yet Habitat’s most visible supporters and volunteers are surely Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, the former President and First Lady.
Habitat’s dual global headquarters are located in Atlanta and Americus, Georgia — Carter’s home state.
“We cannot speak of human rights in other countries unless we are going to do our utmost to protect the rights of our own people here at home,” Jimmy Carter has said, according to the AZquotes.com website.
“Habitat gives us an opportunity which is very difficult to find,” Carter says with his signature homespun simplicity. “To reach out and work side by side with those who never have had a decent home — but work with them on a completely equal basis. It’s not a big-shot, little-shot relationship. It’s a sense of equality.”
Equality and justice and mercy are intertwined concepts and realities, interwoven with the human desire to find our genuine home. Habitat for Humanity aims to embody these virtues — worthy goals not only worldwide but also here in Greater Hartford.
In recent years, the Hartford-based Habitat affiliate has built an average of 10 homes per year in Greater Hartford, according to the HartfordHabitat.org website. Overall, the affiliate has served 25-30 families annually via a multifaceted program of new home construction, house renovations and repairs.
“The most fulfilling aspect is seeing the impact of homeownership … at the home dedication,” says Moody. “Seeing the parents smiling and children pointing out which room is going to be theirs.”
Habitat has built three homes in the Farmington Valley, she notes — two in Farmington and one in Granby — “and would like to discuss opportunities to build in the area.”
Those two towns plus Avon, Canton and Simsbury comprise the Valley’s five core towns, and define Today Magazine’s coverage area.
Volunteers are the lifeblood and ethos of the Habitat model. Prior to the COVID pandemic, the Hartford affiliate hosted an average of 4500-5000 volunteers annually in recent years, according to Moody — and at least 500-700 have been from the Valley. Over 100 Valley businesses, churches and organizations have partnered with the local nonprofit.
“The Farmington Valley has a big heart,” says Moody, “and residents are always willing to support a good cause.”
The nonprofit’s 13-member board is an all-volunteer team. Donald Bates of Simsbury and longtime stalwart Donald Shaw of Granby have represented the Valley.
“Habitat gives us an opportunity ... to reach out and work side by side with those who never have had a decent home — but work with them on a completely equal basis" — Jimmy Carter
Shaw has even worked with Jimmy Carter. They volunteered together in Haiti via the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, per the Hartford Area Habitat’s 2012 annual report.
“Volunteers are the heart and soul of Habitat for Humanity,” according to HartfordHabitat.org — “whether you’re an individual, corporate team, community group, a small group of friends, with skilled experience or not, there are many different ways for you to volunteer.”
The Hartford affiliate has eight full-time employees, per its website, and 23 employees overall.
“I love the mission of Habitat,” says Moody, who previously worked for Hamilton Sundstrand, United Technologies and the Hartford Public Schools. “To see a piece of dirt become a backyard or a blighted property become the prize of a neighborhood is rewarding.”
If home is indeed where the heart is, Habitat for Humanity has delivered a powerful double-duty dose of home-and-heart medicine for countless families who were weakened by sometimes-caustic economic ingredients before Habitat offered more sustainable financial sustenance.
HOME-SEEKING + HEART-HOPING
Among the home quotes referenced at the beginning of this story, you likely recognized the source of “There’s no place like home” — yes, The Wizard of Oz.
The climax of the classic movie portrays the homesick and home-seeking Dorothy mustering all her faith and hope and desire in a desperate effort to return to her Kansas homestead.
“Dorothy’s trancelike repetition of the phrase ‘there’s no place like home’ condenses the meaning of what home means for each of us,” writes England-based artist Sarah Bale in a blog hosted by The Artists Information Company. “Home is a place we associate with familiarity, love, a safe place, a place of origin.”
On the other hand, while home signifies these constructive associations in an ideal world, not every home is ideal — and some are as far from perfection as the east is from the west.
“When her Kansas home is uprooted by a violent tornado, Dorothy is terrified,” Bale notes.
For some — likely for more people than we’re aware — a tornado is an apt metaphor for the upheaval and uproar and terror that visit too many homes. What is the antidote when such home-based havoc results in demolition instead of construction?
Celebrated American poet Langston Hughes has likewise queried — What happens to a dream deferred?
Habitat for Humanity seeks to supply both an antidote and an answer to such heartfelt and heartrending questions.
The nonprofit’s stated mission, per the Habitat.org website, is as follows: “Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.”
HOME POEMS + SONGS
By the way — whatever happens when hopes and dreams are deferred, and no matter the cost, Hughes offers this advice:
Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird / That cannot fly.
This notion dovetails with Habitat’s key principles as outlined on Habitat.org, including these bedrock goals:
• Demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ.
• Advocate for affordable housing.
• Promote dignity and hope.
At this juncture, some might wonder — as a Christian agency, does Habitat require adherence to certain creeds or beliefs by volunteers and families who apply for homeownership?
The answer is as easy as ABC, according to Habitat.org: “All who desire to be a part of this work are welcome, regardless of religious preference or background. We have a policy of building with people in need regardless of race or religion. We welcome volunteers and supporters from all backgrounds.”
The local affiliate expands on this theme.
“Habitat for Humanity North Central Connecticut has an open-door policy,” per its website. “All who believe that everyone needs a decent, affordable place to live are welcome to help with the work, regardless of race, religion, age, gender, political views or any of the other distinctions that too often divide people. In short, Habitat welcomes volunteers and supporters from all backgrounds, and also serves people in need of decent housing regardless of race or religion.”
Whatever one’s race or religion, it’s safe to say that every human being on the planet shares the common hopes and dreams of the human heart — yet apparently there are differing takes about how to satisfy those hopes and achieve those dreams.
Why do you suppose this is?
As we contemplate this question, let’s return for a moment to the Land of Oz and listen closely (if possible) for a reply.
Can you hear Dorothy’s voice raised in song:
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.
Perhaps songs and poems can provide further clues in our shared quest to answer the riddle of the heart’s hopes for and dreams of home. Observe the Habitat motifs in this classic Jackson 5 song that has been covered by Mariah Carey:
You and I must make a pact,
We must bring salvation back,
Where there is love — I’ll be there.
… I’ll be there to comfort you,
Build my world of dreams around you,
I’m so glad that I found you —
I’ll be there with a love that’s strong,
I’ll be your strength — I’ll keep holding on.
Have we mentioned — the Habitat.org website affirms “our vision [is] building strength, stability and self-reliance in partnership with families in need of decent and affordable housing.”
Song-wise, let’s move closer to our Valley home — and hear these lyrics from Farmington-based songwriter Michael Kelly Blanchard and his timeless tune Home to Stay:
Down the road there is a day,
As simple as it seems,
When Love will bring you home to stay —
And give you back your dreams.
Home is where the heart is — so they say. For more and more families who might never have a realistic chance of owning a home, Habitat for Humanity hopes to offer a head start toward their dream. +
• This article first appeared as the cover story in the February edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication
• Editor-in-Chief Bruce Deckert is an award-winning journalist
• Click here to read our previous cover story on Michael Kelly Blanchard and his 50-year musical career