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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018 6 months ago

BLACK TIE: Rock the House event showcases Habitat's heart for humanity

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For West Orange Habitat for Humanity’s Marilyn Hattaway, the goal of the annual Rock the House event is to raise both funds for and awareness of a great need — affordable housing.
by: Danielle Hendrix Black Tie Editor

WINTER GARDEN  Marilyn Hattaway has been with West Orange Habitat for Humanity for just under two years now, but it’s been a jam-packed two years for her and her board members.

The organization’s biggest supporters and volunteers have seen a lot of progress in that time. WOHFH’s newest affordable-housing community, Green Oaks Row, is well under construction — and its first partner family moved in to one of the homes a few weeks ago. Soon, two more families will soon call east Winter Garden home, too.

Hattaway, the organization’s director of development, and the board also took on one of their newest endeavors last year for the first time — their annual WOHFH fundraising event, Rock the House.

There is much success to be celebrated and happy tears to be shed, and that’s exactly what drew Hattaway to WOHFH in March 2017. She previously served for two years with Habitat for Humanity of Seminole County & Greater Apopka, and before that was the executive director for 10 years with Hospice of the Comforter.

“It was great work…I love the mission of hospice tremendously and still do, but I wanted to experience tears of joy,” she said. “I volunteered with Habitat before and when the position with (West Orange) came up, they were poised for such growth. This (Habitat) community was growing because it supported Habitat for so long and I just thought this would be awesome to come and build here — build a team, build fundraising, build events and build a whole community of people to push our mission out there.”

Another reason that spurs Hattaway on to serve with Habitat is the need for affordable housing in the Central Florida area.

"It’s a fundraising event and that’s our optimal goal, but really we just want to share the message that the need is great here in West Orange County for affordable housing, and we want to encourage as many people as we can." - Marilyn Hattaway

“I think the need for affordable housing is tremendous,” she said. “Orlando is tied with Las Vegas for the least attractive environment for affordable housing. That’s terrible. Metro Orlando is ranked third nationally for lack of housing, for extremely low-income residents. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one is low-wage employment growth is not keeping up with rent. The rent isn’t matching what the employers are paying. Affordability struggles have even crept further into the mainstream, affecting moderate-income households, as well.”

Working with WOHFH, she said, gives her the chance to do what she loves most and connect people with each other. Connecting people who love to make a difference with people who really need the help is something Habitat does well, and the connections and relationships that are built through the organization serve as catalysts for getting the community involved.

It's also why WOHFH is gearing up for its second Rock the House event, which encourages community members and businesses to sponsor tables and compete for prizes for the best themes. But the real purpose behind the event is to raise funds and community support in order to continue building local communities like Green Oaks Row — and to see those happy tears.

“Rock the House is mostly a board and volunteer-led event,” she said. “Our first goal is to share the need and importance of affordable housing and how West Orange Habitat is answering that call, and then to get as many people involved in giving and volunteering as possible. It’s a fundraising event and that’s our optimal goal, but really we just want to share the message that the need is great here in West Orange County for affordable housing, and we want to encourage as many people as we can.”

Although Hattaway plays a large part in the organization, events like Rock the House could not go on without the tireless effort, time and dedication from her board members and volunteers.

“Pam Billue, she’s been active with Habitat for a while but has been on our board for almost a year and I cannot tell you how many hours she’s put into it,” Hattaway said. “She has been a board chair of Rock the House and most of the stuff couldn’t be done without her. (And) our board of directors are pretty important because they’re the ones who brought together a team of people to be on the Rock the House committee.

“The reason I’m here — and we’re here — is because the need is so great,” she said. “I love connecting people who want to help their community and do something big or little to make a difference and give a voice to the people who need it most.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Black Tie Editor for all three of Observer Media Group's print publications in Orange County. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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