WEST ORANGE — Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando was well established by 1990 when it wanted to have a stronger presence in West Orange County; so in August of that year, West Orange Habitat for Humanity was launched. Local business men and women came together to create a board of directors that met monthly at Oakland Presbyterian Church, putting together bylaws and criteria.
By the following summer, two lots had been purchased on Jefferson Street in Oakland and the first family was selected to live in one of the homes to be built there. A second family was chosen by the following spring, and — after putting in many hours of sweat equity during the construction phase — the two single mothers, Irene McIntyre and Johnnie Pearl Mackroy, and their children received the keys to the first two West Orange Habitat homes in time for Christmas 1992.
A quarter-century later, Habitat has built 32 such homes in Winter Garden, Oakland and Ocoee. And there are no plans to stop.
The affiliate currently is building two houses in Winter Garden and two in Oakland; three others were closed on this year already.
“They have been building every weekend on the houses,” said Patrice Phillips, West Orange Habitat’s executive director. “We’re going to be building every weekend until we finish the four houses we have going.”
The next person to become a homeowner will be Pamela Fikes, a single mother who will live with her daughter and granddaughter on Bethune Avenue in Winter Garden. The 1,300-square-foot home will have three bedrooms, one for each of them.
The home is being financed through St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, near Windermere, and Fikes is participating in the church’s Circles program, which assigns a mentor to assist the family throughout the homeownership process.
“They partner (families) with a mentor that helps them with additional life skills so they can be successful as a homeowner,” Phillips said. “The mentor really walks them through the process, because they get overwhelmed with it. They’re dealing with things they’ve never really had to be accountable for, like obtaining a financial document.
“There’s still some fear in some low-income families that the government is looking at their finances, even if they’re not on government assistance,” she said. “We tell them, ‘This is to protect you and to protect every one else. This will be your home, and we want to make sure you can keep it.’”
BECOMING A HOMEOWNER
A list of criteria has been established for families in need to find out if they qualify. They must have lived in West Orange County for at least the last two months; must have had the same job or source of income for at least the last six months; and their current housing must be inadequate, overcrowded or government subsidized.
Families will be considered if their total income is between 25% and 60% of the area median income for Orange County. And prospective homeowners must be willing to partner with Habitat by agreeing to live in the home provided on the next available lot, by contributing sweat equity on their home and potentially others and by completing 20 homeowner-education workshops provided by Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat depends on the community to help get these homes built, and businesses have stepped up repeatedly with donations. Bright Future Electric donated the electrical services plus volunteers on the two Winter Garden homes currently under construction. Health Central Hospital and SunTrust recently donated $10,000 each.
And St. Luke’s has made a $250,000 commitment over the next five years to build 10 houses in Winter Garden.
Another way West Orange HFH brings in money is with its own ReStore. The facility is at 114 S. Dillard St., Winter Garden, which accepts gently used furniture, home appliances and building materials and then resells them. Proceeds go toward the construction of more Habitat homes.
Habitat continually seeks donations, in-kind gifts, volunteers and sponsors. For details on becoming involved, contact West Orange Habitat’s executive director, Patrice Phillips, at (407) 952-5148 or [email protected].
MEET THE BOARD
West Orange Habitat’s board members are all volunteers who come from a variety of backgrounds with the resources, wisdom and passion to lead the organization. The board is charged with long-term planning and governance, as well as overseeing the organization’s interests and well-being.
“One thing that I think I’ve accomplished is really getting out in the community and connecting, getting Health Central to step up to the plate and be our sponsor for the year, bringing Women Build to the community for the first time ever,” Phillips said. “We are starting to have some great partnerships.”
Phillips is also proud to have brought diversity to West Orange Habitat’s board of directors.
“In the past, our board was made up of primarily men, and they’ve done a fantastic job in the 25 years, but we needed some diversity,” she said. “We have women, we have different careers, we have our first African-American woman, Jennifer Yon, on the board.”
The current West Orange Habitat officers are: president, Tom Runnels, who is retired from the Osceola County School District; vice president, James Gustino, attorney with James A. Gustino, P.A.; treasurer, Sally Lorenz, accountant with Sally Lorenz & Associates; and secretary, Richard Bergman, software engineer with COLSA Corporation.
General board members are Alberto J. Herran, immediate past president, who is with Ameriprise Financial Services Inc.; Harold Bouler, former Winter Garden city commissioner; Wallace Wilson, Realty Savers of Central Florida; Brenda LaBattaglia, Health Central Hospital; Dorothy Benson, Integrity Golf Company; Yon, Innovative Business Associates; Chad Creech, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Fine Living; and retirees Frank Borsoni, William Criswell, James McQuillan and Duane Walterhouse.
Volunteers are important to the success of Habitat, too.
“I have a core group of volunteers, (including) Dianne Southwell; she’s not only donated her time, but her product to give away,” Phillips said. “She helps me with a lot of different events, and she’s introduced me to a ton of people.”
Last week was the eighth annual National Women Build Week, and across the country, thousands of women volunteers wielded their hammers to do their part in putting families in simple, decent housing and highlighting homeownership challenges faced by women.
On Saturday, West Orange Habitat engaged in its first year of having women build or repair homes in the area. On Thursday, a team of women from Lowe’s, in the Winter Garden Village at Fowler Groves, spent the day building, and the next day, Florida Hospital representatives worked — both days in Winter Garden. On Saturday, a team from St. Luke’s worked in Winter Garden, and Health Central Hospital volunteers worked in Oakland.
Other female groups were expected to continue working this week.
“It’s important for women to come out and volunteer and help build because it empowers them,” Phillips said. “A lot of the homeowners are single moms, and it encourages them to see all these women come out and build for them.”
On June 22, the West Orange affiliate is hosting a meet-and-greet at the Plant Street Market in Winter Garden with contractors, developers, painters and subcontractors to discuss an upcoming project with Orange County. Called A Brush with Kindness, it will bring volunteers together to power wash and paint up to 30 homes in the Tildenville area. The meeting starts at 6 p.m.
On Oct. 15, West Orange Habitat will celebrate its milestone with a 25th-anniversary gala featuring local band Men with Mortgages. The ticketed event will include entertainment and food tastings with heavy hors d’oeuvres.
Since 1976, Habitat for Humanity International has helped more than 5 million people through home construction, rehabilitation and repairs.
The non-profit Christian organization works in more than 70 countries and welcomes people of all races, religions and nationalities to partner in its mission.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].