Habitat for Humanity
of Effingham County
Making the Dream of Home Ownership a Reality
story by Kathryn Vandenhouten photos by Shelia Scott
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization founded on the conviction that everyone deserves a decent place to live. Its mission is a simple one: Seeking to put God’s love into action to bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope.
Since 1995, Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County has been working to achieve that mission by advocating for fair housing policies, constructing homes, and providing training and resources to help local families improve their living conditions. So far, they have helped twenty families build homes in Effingham, and they hope to keep adding families every year.
Jimmy Rutland has been involved with the organization since 2004. He started as a volunteer, and the more he became involved, the more passionate he became about helping the community. Now he is the Executive Director, and he works for Habitat for Humanity full time.
In addition to being a standard non profit, Habitat is essentially a construction company, mortgage originator and retail operation as well. “Habitat of Effingham is multi-faceted,” Rutland explains. Unlike other mortgage companies, Habitat works closely with families to maintain their debt to income ratio and to not only get them into homes, but to keep them there.
“We’re taking people off the streets,” says Rutland. “And it’s keeping their debt to income ratio less than 43 per cent. Their total housing is only 30 per cent, including their taxes, so that’s a game changer for somebody.”
Jim Presnell is also on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity. As a real estate agent and contractor, he literally lays the foundation for these homes. He has volunteered hundreds of hours on multiple homes, but says helping a child get into a good home is always worth it.
“Habitat for Humanity builds homes for families. Families have kids. Kids are what make the world go ‘round,” says Presnell. “That’s what the bottom line is for me.”
Presnell also dispels the common misconception that Habitat families get homes for free. “The misnomer is that we build houses and give them to folks,” he says. That is not the case. “They purchase the home just like everyone else. They have a mortgage, and they also have to put in what we call sweat equity. They have to put time into building the homes with us,” Presnell adds.
Habitat families do not need a handout; they just need a helping hand. They pay a mortgage like anyone else would, except their lender is Habitat for Humanity, and their cost is more manageable.
Most banks won’t give someone a home loan if they haven’t maintained the same type of job for two years, for instance. Habitat focuses less on the type of job and more on the fact that someone has kept steady work.
Another major difference is that Effingham’s Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just build homes, they build lifelong relationships with the families. Wilhelmina Roberson can attest to that.
She moved into her new home in December with her three children, the oldest of whom has Down Syndrome. She is grateful for Habitat and for Mr. Rutland and Mr. Presnell for their continued friendship and support. “They’re great people. I love them,” she says. “I can’t say enough, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
Roberson calls her new home a blessing, and she knows she has a support system in Rutland, Presnell and all of the Habitat crew. “I can call them any time I need to if I need anything,” she adds. “They’re still involved. If I have any problems, they don’t hesitate.”
Brittney Roper is another community member who can say that Habitat for Humanity has changed her life. She moved into her mother’s Habitat home when she was seventeen, and now she is getting a home of her own.
Her new home is currently under construction, and she can’t say enough about Habitat for Humanity of Effingham. “It’s amazing,” she says. “I never thought I would be a homeowner at this age.”
She says raising the first wall of her home was one of happiest moments of her life. “I smiled ear to ear for like thirty minutes,” she says. “I was full of emotions at the time. It was happy, and I felt like tearing up. I was just overjoyed.” For her and her two small children, this home is not just shelter, but security.
She also says that Rutland and Presnell are not just workers for Habitat, but family. Habitat has made such a difference in her life that she plans to keep working for them long after her home is built.
“It’s a great experience and feeling to know that you’re helping someone else in the same situation you were in,” says Roper. “I’m going to continue volunteering. Helping is a really good feeling.”
Both Jimmy Rutland and Jim Presnell agree. “It’s good for the heart-period. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally,” Presnell says. “Habitat does the body good.”
One of Rutland’s most memorable moments occurred recently upon a home’s completion: “Her son came up to her and asked, ‘When are we going to have to move again?’ and she got to tell him, “This is ours. We don’t have to move any more.’”
Stories like these abound from Habitat for Humanity, and hopefully they will continue to bless area families with homes every year. Their goal is to build at least one home each year, but they need the support of the community to do so.
Whether it be donations of money, property, supplies or labor, any help will make a difference. Habitat Restore, located at 3065 Highway 21 in Rincon, is a retail sales and donation center whose proceeds go back into helping the community.
The ReStore is always accepting donations of used furniture, appliances, building materials and other home goods, in addition to monetary donations. No donation is too small to make a big difference.
For those who can’t make donations, volunteers are always needed. “We save almost half the cost of a house in labor,” says Rutland. No experience is required. “All you need to know is which way to hold a hammer and how to hold up a two by four,” he adds.
Both Jimmy Rutland and Jim Presnell want the people of Effingham to realize that Habitat of Humanity doesn’t just help families, it helps the entire community. If they take an empty or abandoned lot and build a new home, the city gets taxes and the property value for nearby homes is usually increased as well. The entire community benefits.
Effingham’s Habitat for Humanity is changing lives in our community. With continued local support, donations, and volunteers, they will continue helping area families by making the dream of affordable housing a reality.
For more information on Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County, visit habitatec.org.