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Habitat’s success depends on support

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By The Staff

The Lancaster County affiliate of Habitat for Humanity is back, and the group is planning projects to help families in the community. Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. It seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action, according to its Web site, www.habitat.org.

Founded in 1976, Habitat has built more than 300,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1.5 million people in more than 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter, the organization says.

Many people associate the group with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. Since 1984, they have worked with Habitat to build homes and raise awareness of the need for affordable housing.

Of course, Lancaster County is a community that can use a group such as Habitat working to help improve housing. Many of our residents live in poor conditions; they just need a helping hand to get a better house that would mean so much to their quality of life.

The beauty of Habit for Humanity is that it is no handout program. Those who benefit from Habitat have to pay a down payment and monthly mortgage payments, but they’re also required to invest hundreds of hours of their own labor into building their Habitat house and the houses of others. Habitat for Humanity calls this “sweat equity.”

In some communities, Habitat affiliates have been very successful for many years. The Lancaster County affiliate doesn’t have that kind of track record – yet. But it hopes to.

In November, Traci Carnes Watterson, 34, of Buford became the new executive director of the group. She left a job at Bank of America in downtown Charlotte to take the post.

Watterson calls the position her dream job and has displayed enthusiasm in interviews about where Habitat is heading in Lancaster County.

She acknowledges the group hasn’t had a strong presence here in recent years, but talks about what Habitat for Humanity can become here.

“We’re not just building one home, but a neighborhood across the community, a sense that everyone is our neighbor,” she said in an interview.

Watterson said she’s been working closely with the group’s national office, with the goal of developing the Lancaster County affiliate into a top-notch community resource. She’s also been busy recruiting residents to fill board positions and to pitch projects the group plans to work on.

The local Habitat affiliate is planning fundraisers and working to see what grants might be available to it.

The affiliate is also working to launch new programs, such as a partnership with YouthBuild, a youth program that helps low-income students learn job skills through the construction of buildings.

With this partnership, Habitat hopes to construct new homes on Miller Street in Lancaster.

The local Habitat affiliate is also hoping to start an Apostles’ Build program, through which a large group of area churches would help build homes with each church responsible for recruiting volunteers.

Watterson expresses great optimism about the direction Habitat for Humanity is heading here, and we’re glad to hear it.

Strong leadership and support from the community will help the organization meet there goals.

We appreciate the work of those folks who are hoping to take the local affiliate in that direction. We also hope the Lancaster County affiliate evolves into the top-notch group Watterson says it wants to be.

There’s no doubt that the county could use a strong Habitat for Humanity affiliate here.