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Mooresville attorney takes Habitat service from office to build site

A group of volunteers huddled around a trailer full of tools and listened to a man standing in the back as he explained safety guidelines and details about the day’s construction project. At a glance, it was the normal setting of a weekend build day with Habitat for Humanity, but closer up, one could see that there was something a little bit different about the project.

As the volunteers began to disperse, they rolled up the sleeves of bright orange t-shirts, the backs of which read “Thomas, Godley and Grimes.” As they hammered their first nail, a man with a video camera circled around them, and as they took turns grabbing tools from the trailer, they were greeted by Ben Thomas, a Mooresville attorney who has been volunteering with Habitat for almost 30 years.

“Owning a home is part of the American Dream, and it provides stability to a family like nothing else does. It gives families roots, and most of all, it gives them a future.” –Ben Thomas

Fitting comfortably into the familiar setting, Thomas grabbed his own tools and joked with the site supervisor before starting work alongside the rest of the volunteers.

Thomas has been involved with Our Towns Habitat since its foundation, and his law firm is sponsoring its first Habitat home this summer.

He moved to North Carolina in 1989 to establish his practice after finishing law school at Louisiana State University. The following year, he ended up at a meeting with a group from St. Therese Catholic Church that wanted to start a local Habitat affiliate in Mooresville.

“I really don’t remember how I ended up at that meeting,” Thomas said. “I knew a little bit about Habitat, but basically no more than the average person.”

The Mooresville affiliate built its first house on McLelland Avenue, and continued building for a few years before finally merging with the Davidson affiliate to form what is now Our Towns Habitat for Humanity.

“I’ve always stayed involved and have been fortunate enough to do some of the closings for the homes,” Thomas said. “Habitat has been very good to me; I actually met my wife through this organization.”

At another Habitat meeting – this time in 1993 – Thomas walked in to a room full of regulars and noticed someone new. Her name was Angela. He asked her to dinner after the next meeting and she said yes. Twenty years later, she admitted that she had already eaten that night.

The two now have a daughter and a son, who both attend LSU.

“Since my wife and I met, Habitat has been a huge part of our lives,” Thomas said. “We worked on a house for our 20th anniversary, and we always dreamed about having the ability to sponsor a Habitat home as a family.”

With the help of his law partners and Habitat, that dream is becoming a reality this summer, as the Thomas Godley & Grimes nears completion at the end of August. Not only did Thomas find a way to fund the project, but he is also dedicated to providing enough volunteers for the Saturday builds.

One Saturday, Our Towns even had to redirect a few volunteers to surrounding build sites because so many showed up at the Thomas, Godley & Grimes home.

“We get a lot of our business from lenders and realtors,” Godley explained, “so we’re going to them with this opportunity to do a team-building, volunteer day.  Everyone that we have talked to has been all for it.”

The firm also gives out special t-shirts at the site and puts together a promotional video after every build day that each of the participating companies can use.

“It’s a situation where everyone wins, and it has kind of turned into a marketing model for us,” Thomas said, “We love volunteering here and we’re excited about the possibility of making this a model that other businesses can use to help generate more funds and volunteers for Habitat.”

Though Thomas has a long history with Our Towns, he usually contributes his time by doing pro-bono closings for the homes, so he is valuing the opportunity to be on the build site almost every Saturday this summer.

The sponsored home provides a path out of poverty housing for Elena, Luis and their four children, who Thomas has met on multiple occasions at the site.

“When you’re on the site, you see that you’re not giving anybody anything,” Thomas said. “They’re earning it and they put so much time and energy into it. Watching Elena work is absolutely amazing. She can drive a nail faster than most of us, and she never slows down.”

Habitat operates on a partnership model, with homeowners serving 400 “sweat equity” hours while they are in the homeownership program. When their home is complete, the purchase the home with an affordable mortgage. Sweat equity hours are earned by attending homeowner education classes, volunteering in the ReStores, helping building other Habitat homes and, finally, building their own home.

Having volunteered on multiple Habitat homes, Thomas understands how powerful it is to work alongside the homeowners, and he said that his most memorable experiences revolve around the families.

“When you see those kids running around and showing you their rooms, you know it’s going to change their lives,” he said. “Owning a home is part of the American Dream, and it provides stability to a family like nothing else does. It gives families roots, and most of all, it gives them a future.”

About the Author: Hannah Bain is a rising junior at N.C. State University, where she is studying public relations, Spanish and nonprofit studies. She is serving as a development and communication intern for Our Towns Habitat, focusing on capturing the stories of new and existing Habitat homeowners.

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Watch the video diaries from the Thomas, Godley & Grimes build on their YouTube channel.

Habitat Volunteers Refresh Homes in Fourth Creek Village

By Marty Price

More than 60 volunteers from Our Towns Habitat for Humanity, Habitat for Humanity International, Lowe’s and Valspar braved temperatures in the mid-30s on Nov. 21 as they joined the homeowners in the Fourth Creek Village – a Habitat for Humanity community – to refresh the 10 homes on Partnership Way in Statesville.

Steam rose from the mulch pile in the early morning sun as Mooresville resident and Valspar corporate volunteer Travis Frye used a pitchfork to load a wheelbarrow to take mulch to one of the nearby homes. Bernadette Anderson, a volunteer who works in the Huntersville Lowe’s, was using a shovel on the other side of the pile to accomplish the same task.

Jeff Porter, executive director for Our Towns Habitat for Humanity, said the work that Saturday, as part of the Habitat’s Women Build Refresh program, was to help Habitat homeowners beautify their houses in order to maintain property values.

“The poverty cycle is broken when you can get people into a home that appreciates in value,” Porter said. Explaining that building the house is only the beginning, he said, “We stick with the homeowners for life, continuing the relationships, even if they move away from these houses.”

Our Towns Habitat for Humanity started in Davidson in 1992 and expanded to cover the surrounding towns in the Lake Norman area. “People need to know that we work in every community and we try to make a big impact in Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Mooresville and Statesville,” he said.

“Our mission is about bringing people together to build homes, community and hope. It’s the bringing people together, that is what we specialize in. We can’t do this by ourselves and we need volunteers.”

Homeowners Doraine Dalton and Azsa Smith, who finished their sweat equity of 400 hours, were volunteering and helping fellow homeowners as both of their houses were being freshened up with new landscaping.

See the full article on The Charlotte Observer

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