Holiday Heroes: Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County

Holiday Heroes: Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - ABC57's Holiday Heroes is back with a local charity making people feel right at home.

Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County keeps on building affordable homes, 226 locally since 1987, and the impact on the families can last a lifetime.

On a quiet snowy street in Mishawaka newly built affordable homes are decorated for the holidays with oversized candy canes, lights and bells, some mailboxes even adorned with garland and holly and Frosty the Snowman himself greets visitors at one front door.

And inside one of these cozy houses, with a windchime out front, a mother and daughter were getting all ready for a visit from Santa Claus this month.

Lindsay Sowers and her spunky 6-year-old daughter Scarlett are spending their second Christmas together inside their new home at The Fields at Highland off Byrkit Avenue in Mishawaka—an entire subdivision created over the past five years by the non-profit Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County.

"That first Christmas we were probably still living out of boxes and I’m trying to just grasp what it meant to have our own home, said Sowers. "But waking up on Christmas morning and watching her come down the stairs and in her own home and not having to share that moment with anyone but us and knowing that this is our space that we get to live and we get to grow and it just makes you feel really good."

And if it wasn’t for Lindsay’s decision to apply for the Habitat home ownership program she says, "I think we would still be in a crummy apartment paying way too much rent and probably struggling a lot more than we should be."

Jim Williams, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County, says the need keeps on growing, "Absolutely there’s an affordable housing crisis! By our conservative estimate there’s about 14,000 families that are paying more than 30% of their income on housing… in fact, there’s a lot of families paying over 50% of their paycheck on housing."

The program helps financially struggling families break out of the cycle of poverty by allowing them to own their own home with affordable mortgage payments. "Affordability is just one side of the coin, the other side is building wealth and equity, said Williams. "So if you’re constantly renting you never get to enjoy the appreciation of an asset that you’ve invested in. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in St. Joe County right now is about $1,250 a month and we’re putting people in brand new houses for hundreds of dollars less than that."

Habitat’s motto: "every child deserves a safe place to grow up” rings especially true for this single mother. "To grow here and spend our life here, I plan on watching her graduate high school from this home, so it just it just sets the foundation for hopefully a really smooth future."

But, like all Habitat homeowners, Sowers had to put in months of “sweat equity" doing real physical labor helping volunteers and contractors create the community she and Scarlett now call home.

"If I gave up every time it got hard who knows where we would be. It helped me realize how strong I really was. If there’s something that you want bad enough and you’re willing to put the time and put the effort in it you can! But you have to make it happen yourself," said Sowers.

And Habitat counsels its homeowners on what it takes to be successful.

"They might make the road a little smoother and they have tips and tricks to help you get there but if you’re not willing to put that work in yourself, you’re not going to get the keys to the house," Sowers said.

And those local Habitat volunteers who donate time, manpower and material have gotten some big-name support building The Fields at Highland over the years, including former President Jimmy Carter, who told ABC57 news in 2018, "We still do what we can, but we know there’s a limit to what we can do in the future."

Then at age 93, President Carter and his wife Rosalynn pitched in as part of the 35th annual Carter Work Project along with country music superstars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, who are set to take over the Carter’s Habitat mission. "Well, that’s completely up to them. I’m not trying to tell them what to do but they would be perfect to take over when Rosalynn and I are stepping down.”

Garth Brooks even helped raise $3 million for Habitat—with a special private concert—before taking the stage for the first ever show at historic Notre Dame Stadium four years ago.

"They love Habitat and that’s genuine! They’ve been building with Habitat for years," said Williams.

Lindsay and Scarlett are very grateful for the program and their festive new neighborhood. "There is a very large sense of community here," Sowers said. "It takes a village to raise a family to and we’ve got a really good village.”

To learn more about the Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County, visit Habitat's website or call 574-288-6967.

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