GREEN COVE SPRINGS – About 40 Habitat for Humanity volunteers worked on two houses last Saturday – the 167th and 168th Habitat homes built in Clay County.
The houses on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard are estimated to be completed by the end of June. Habitat volunteers are used for most of the labor except the trade professions such as electrical work, air conditioning hookups and plumbing.
Armed with hammers and donning protective glasses and gloves, Megan Marsh, Nijah Pierce and Nyesha Pierce are put to work. They are on the list and they don’t know if either house will be theirs.
“I enjoy learning, it’s a very surreal moment,” said Marsh, a single mother from Orange Park. “You talk about it a lot and then you’re actually out here hammering things, you’re like, ‘Oh dang, this is real.’”
Nijah Pierce and Nyesha Pierce are twins from Green Cove Springs. Their grandmother earned a house through Habitat for Humanity and they appreciated the help of the volunteers.
“It’s exciting to be able to work on your house or somebody else's house to make them happy,” Nijah Pierce said.
“It’s amazing, but nerve-wracking because I don’t know what I’m doing [with construction]. I am hoping that if this is one of our houses, we’re doing what’s supposed to be right and not wrong. It’s crazy,” Nyesha Pierce said. “It’s hard nowadays to get people to just come help out.”
Carolyn Edwards, Clay Habitat for Humanity’s executive director, said Green Cove Springs has a need for affordable housing, and the new homes would empower residents.
To qualify for a Habitat home, applicants must live in Clay County or work in the county for a year. Applicants can qualify for a new home if they live in an unhealthy or unsafe home, a dangerous neighborhood or currently pay 40 percent of their income for housing.
Both Green Cove homes have three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Habitat will build three additional homes in the county by the end of the year, Edwards said.
Applicants must pay a $1,000 minimum down payment and an interest-free mortgage payment of $800-$900. Prospective homeowners must complete between 300-500 “sweat equity” hours, working on the homes.
“This is going to give them an opportunity to gain some financial solvency, some stability and for several of them it’s going to be healthier for them because they were living in homes that were unsafe for them as well,” Edwards said.
Volunteer Cliff Baker is a realtor who knows of the housing challenges in Clay County. He said he was impressed by the number of volunteers coming from different industries.
“It’s all about affordable housing for people,” Baker said. “Everybody deserves a safe home.”
Jerry Kemp has been volunteering since 2001 and previously served as president and vice-president of the board.
After the volunteers complete the sheathing, the windows, painting, the doors, the baseboards and put the appliances in, he said the smile of the face of the new homeowner made the effort worthwhile.
Kemp said the process and camaraderie was more rewarding since the families had to do the sweat equity hours with volunteers.
“We’re not building a house we’re building a home. And we know the people going to those homes,” Kemp said. “It makes it much more of an effort, you know it’s going to be appreciated and kept.”
For more information on volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, visit clayhabitat.org.