For 23 years, Dorothy Brown’s home has been her pride and joy.
“I really wanted a place to call my own,” the mother of two said of her motivation to purchase the cozy ranch-style house on the corner of 14th Street and Garfield Avenue. “I thank God for it. He gave me this place, and I try to keep it up the best I can.”
But Brown, 64, who suffers from lupus, says her health and financial constraints prevent her from keeping her home the condition that she would like.
“I am alone, by myself, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” said the grandmother of seven.
Help arrived last week in the form of a team of volunteers from Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County. Stephen Hawk, a lead carpenter for Habitat Forsyth, directed the volunteers, who tackled everything from porch and siding repairs to painting, weatherizing and landscaping.
“Since it’s on a corner lot, it’s kind of like a cornerstone for the whole community,” Hawk, 22, said of Brown’s property. “It’s really just brightening up the community and making it look more appealing. It’s what the community needs and that’s what Habitat is all about, bettering the community.”
Long known for constructing new homes for low income families, Habitat is more frequently tackling renovation projects on existing homes and projects to improve the quality of communities through its Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI).
The revitalization of Brown’s home was one of several projects that took place during Habitat’s Labor of Love, a four day blitz of activity held annually over the Labor Day weekend. Typically, new home construction is the focus of the holiday initiative, but this year, only one new home, in Habitat’s Smith Farm neighborhood, was constructed. The bulk of the roughly 200 Labor of Love volunteers were deployed to the community surrounding Kimberley Park Elementary, where they lent their support to a variety NRI projects. In addition to home renovation projects, volunteers constructed beds for a community garden and constructed walkways to and from the school to its outdoor education center.
“Neighborhood Revitalization is more than just houses. It is a variety of community activities that help enhance the quality of the whole neighborhood,” explained Sylvia Oberle, executive director of Habitat Forsyth. “We started it with the phase one development of Cherry Street, but we actually have begun that in earnest this year.”
Neighborhood revitalization has been a priority for Habitat Forsyth since 2009, Oberle said.
Through the NRI, which Habitat provides in partnership with the City of Winston-Salem, Habitat volunteers perform maintenance and repairs on existing structures for qualified homeowners. Like the homeowners’ program, homeowners must meet income and other requirements to qualify. NRI is currently only being offered in the Cherry Street area.
Brenda Sloan, a retired library archivist who lives in the Cherry Street area, was among the volunteers who worked on Brown’s home. She praised Habitat for taking the initiative to improve her community.
“It is marvelous,” said Sloan, who volunteers regularly with Habitat. “I can remember driving down Cherry Street and not really being comfortable. It’s a different neighborhood (now) and it makes you feel good because this is my community.”
Prior to Labor of Love, Home Depot Pro Sales Associate Karen Sells’ only interactions with Habitat were from behind her counter at the Hanes Mall Boulevard store when agency employees stopped by for supplies.
This year, Sells, an 18-year Home Depot employee, decided to get involved. She organized a team of Home Depot volunteers to help with Labor of Love. After a few hours on the job last Thursday, the mother of one said she was hooked.
“It’s hot; it’s humid, but I’m having a lot of fun and getting to know my coworkers better too,” she remarked. “I’m not much for pouring concrete, but I can paint.”
Roger Mazzon was part of a large contingent of Wells Fargo employees who also contributed to the effort. Wells Fargo played a vital role in this year’s Labor of Love. In addition to supplying volunteers, the banking giant contributed $140,000 to help launch the NRI effort. Mazzon, an open systems engineer, said he felt right at home helping to revitalize Brown’s home last week.
“My father renovated homes, so I’ve been doing it off and on for years,” said Mazzon, who volunteers with Habitat regularly. “I get to exercise and I get to build things. I find it’s a good way to relax from the office.”
Habitat Forsyth will continue to build affordable new homes for qualified homeowners, and the addition of the NRI will allow the affiliate to expand its reach like never before, Oberle said.
Brown, who was forced to retire from RJ Reynolds in 1993 because of her health, was overjoyed to be the recipient of one of the very first NRI projects.
“It’s awesome,” she said with a wide grin. “With my income, I would never have been able to afford to get the things done that are being done here so I’m just so grateful to God.”
For information about qualifying for NRI improvements in the Cherry Street area or becoming a Habitat homeowner, contact Kelly Mitter at 765-8854 x115 or HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com.