About 18 months ago, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County and Pinellas County Government leaders began discussing seven Pinellas County owned lots in the Ridgecrest community. The County offered to donate these parcels to Habitat Pinellas for the development of affordable housing.

The Greater Ridgecrest community is a historic African-American neighborhood, with the unfortunate stigma of crime, prostitution and drugs. A few years ago, the County made improvements to the roads, sidewalks and amenities in the community, with Ridgecrest Elementary and the YMCA experiencing flourishing programs.

Mike Sutton, CEO of Habitat Pinellas explains, “We gladly accepted the donation of all seven lots and planned a ‘Paint the Block’ initiative where we partnered with 10+ homeowners in the neighborhood for exterior enhancements. We also began work to accumulate additional lots in the neighborhood. At this time, we’ve completed 10 homes at an investment of $1,845,000; have nine under construction with another six vacant and ready for a family; and we are also pursuing additional vacant lots.”

Before starting construction, Habitat Pinellas spent time getting to know the neighborhood and the organizations vital to its residents including Friends of Ridgecrest, YMCA, and Ridgecrest Elementary.

The Habitat Pinellas leadership team has also met with County Commissioners to gain their support for the Ridgecrest redevelopment efforts.

“Congratulations and thanks to Habitat Pinellas! Despite the obstacles and challenges in the Ridgecrest neighborhood, Habitat Pinellas is committed to providing housing opportunities and has accomplished this”, said Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel. “With over $3,500,000 invested by Habitat Pinellas, we are proud of the homes that will be built. Safe and affordable housing - that’s the goal of the Pinellas County Commission. Habitat Pinellas has been the leader in making this happen. We’ll grateful for their leadership.”

On the redevelopment initiative, Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard said, “The County Commission is always pleased to partner with Habitat for Humanity to provide housing opportunities for our hard-working families. The County Commission has shown its strong support of Habitat for Humanity’s mission by providing affordable housing construction loans and with direct action to donate a total of seven lots in the Greater Ridgecrest Area. The new housing and revitalization efforts by Habitat Pinellas are having an important, highly-visible and positive impact in this historic community.”

Looking towards the next six months, Habitat Pinellas has plans to complete the next nine homes. This will result in the total investment to exceed $3,500,000, with another six lots ready to be built on.

Heather Cameron, a family support specialist, felt blessed to be accepted into the Habitat Pinellas program. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity to provide a true home to my children”.

Heather is a single mother to two teenage girls, Rylie and Sydney. Her girls are artistic, smart and funny; they are the reason she has continued to move her life forward for the better.

Their current living situation involves an unresponsive landlord, ongoing electrical panel issues for over two years, a leaking roof, and a dangerous neighborhood which keeps the girls from playing outside or having friends spend the night.

After being accepted into the program, Heather was surprised by her experience completing her sweat equity hours. “It has surprised me how many people volunteer out of the kindness of their hearts. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful. Volunteers are truly happy for me that I am a homeowner candidate. It’s a joy to see so many people want to see me succeed.”

Heather and her girls look forward to making memories in their new home. “I’m building because I want to give my kids a proper home. Our home will be our sanctuary and a place to call our own.”

Nelson and Maritza Montanez felt truly blessed when they found out they were accepted into the Habitat Pinellas program. “Habitat has given us the opportunity to build an affordable home that our family can call home.”

The parents of four children, Nelson and Maritza pride themselves on having a happy and healthy Christian family that loves spending time together and helping out those in need. Ranging from 11 to five, their kids all enjoy playing music, fishing and swimming.

For the past three years, the family of six was living with Maritza’s mother. “In these past three years, we have experienced the frustration with the kids not being able to have their space, or their own place to where they feel stable and secure. We all share one bathroom, which is very difficult when you have a big family.”

The Montanez’s have enjoyed completing their sweat equity hours on build sites, at the ReStore yard sale and especially when they were able to donate their time with Feeding Tampa Bay.

“With all the limitations of not having a stable place for the kids to call home and having lots of difficult situations, we have always believed and have learned this: How to become close like a family, how to be able to see things in a positive way, knowing that what we are going through today is just a storm but tomorrow the calm will come and it will be full of blessings.”

Fayon Small is a Nursing Assistant at an assisted living community. She has been living in a two bedroom, one bathroom house with her mother and four children.

Unfortunately, Small and her four kids have been sharing a bedroom. Her kids all have their own personalities and interests, so Small looks forward to her kids having their own spaces.

Small said her living situation has been very tight and cramped. “I have to get up early to get everyone in and out of the bathroom in time enough for work and school.”

Small has enjoyed her time completing her sweat equity hours and said she has learned many technical skills and also likes getting to know the other homeowner candidates. “I have learned that everyone has a story and everyone has their own unique style.”

Small is happy she and her family will have a safe and stable home and won’t have to continue moving from home to home.

“Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful organization and a godsend to me and my family.” Small wants to change her family’s future. “I am building because I want a place to call my own and for my kids to have their own space.”

Martha Guzman and her husband, Carlos Bello Ramirez, live with their two kids in a small two bedroom home.

They are a tight-knit family who are very supportive of each other and follow God’s word.

“When we arrived in this country we came here just with our suitcases and full of hope to make a better future but always with our faith in God” said Guzman.

Guzman imagines a different life once they move into their Habitat home. “I will feel more confident, I will give stability to my family, sense of belonging and it is a good demonstration for the kids that always with faith and effort we can achieve great things for our lives.”

Guzman found earning sweat equity hours to be a great experience. The positive attitudes of fellow homeowner candidates was contagious. “It was amazing to see all the people seeing a good future ahead.”

Guzman looks forward to a better future for her and her family. “My house will be a place of peace and tranquility for me and my family.”

Just as she learned about the Habitat program from a coworker, Guzman talks about Habitat with friends and coworkers. “It was really amazing when Habitat notified us that we were accepted in the program. We cannot wait for the day when we will get the key to our own house.”

Clemente and Maria are the proud parents of Mayra and Carlos. Clemente’s mother, Domitila, also lives with the family.

“Grandma Domitila is full of love and knowledge, she is 82 years old so she’s the one to go to for advice. We also have a dog named Luna, she keeps all of us happy and active, she’s really energetic and she’s part of our family.”

The Flores family has been renting most of their lives, “At the moment, we are living in a two bedroom house. The space we have for our family just isn’t enough.” When the Flores family found out they were accepted into the Habitat program they were really excited and thought, “We are finally going to own a home!”

When asked about their sweat equity experience Clemente said, “I love working on the sites. My family has also enjoyed it. It’s something that we have been doing together and I think it pushes us to be great and definitely a fun quality family time.” He added, “Habitat for Humanity is hope! They will not give up on you and will help you every step of the way--optimism is the faith that leads to achievement! Nothing can be done without hope.”

“We’re going to be able to call our home ours! It’s so different owning something and knowing you worked so hard for it.”

Join us for their home dedication on Wednesday, December 19th at 9:00 AM at 1128 Auburn Street Clearwater, FL.

 

Rosemary Hodge began volunteering with Habitat Pinellas two years ago to give back to the community. “This community has help be enjoy the success I have experiences all through my career”.

Rosemary is a native Floridian, a proud mother of two boys and grandmother of three boys. She is a hairstylist and business owner of 37 years at Hair Factor in Dunedin. She is also a Long Leaf Native Pine farmer working with the state forestry division and a future vegetable Gardner.

She loves the latter stages of building, and especially “being able to volunteer my hours for deserving future homeowners. I enjoy rejoicing with them when they accomplish their requirements and watching them step into the hope of a better day.”

Some of her favorite memories as a Habitat Pinellas volunteer include assisting with staging the Habitat homes with The Warrick Dunn foundation, volunteering at the Valspar Tournament, and interacting with clients in the ReStore.

Thank you Rosemary for donating your time with Habitat Pinellas!

MAKING CHARITABLE DONATIONS TO HABITAT FOR HUMANITY OF PINELLAS FROM YOUR IRA

A very unique way to donate to Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas is through your Individual Retirement Account (IRA), which could reduce your taxable income.

Here’s How It Works:

•  You must be 70 ½ or older at the time of the distribution.

• You may distribute any amount up to $100,000.00 in a calendar year to Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas as long as the donation is completed by December 31 of the year in which you intend to make the charitable distribution.

• The administrator of the IRA (often times the owner of the IRA) must make the distribution directly to Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas.

• The amount of the distribution to Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas will NOT be included in the taxable income of the owner of the IRA in the year of the donation.

Please review your intentions with your accountant, your attorney or your financial planner.

Marc and Terry Banning owners of Banning Lumber and Millwork learned about Habitat Pinellas from a customer that was also a volunteer at Habitat. They learned about the Habitat mission and have been supporting with donated building materials and generous financial contributions since the early 90’s.


Terry learned about the women’s giving circle, “Hammer and Heels” from a friend and she was intrigued. She wanted to give back to her community through the group and Marc encourage her to get involved. Terry explains that “it has been the most positive and rewarding hands- on experience from meeting the family and working side-by-side with them, to the dedication day when they get their keys. It is an emotional and rewarding journey from start to finish.”


Marc Banning was surprised to learn there was no men’s group like “Hammers and Heels”. He discussed it with Habitat staff and was instrumental in starting the men’s group, “Hunks with Hammers”. The men’s group is halfway to raising enough funds to build the first men’s build in 2019. Marc says fundraising has probably been the most challenging process but he is determined to complete the first home for a single dad. Marc and Terry feel that affordable housing is a huge need in Pinellas County and Habitat is the way to help. The Banning’s want to thank their family and friends who contributed $3,000 for Terry’s birthday fundraiser to support Habitat Pinellas.


For more information on Habitat’s giving circle please contact Pam Ora at POra@HabitatPinellas.org.

 

There’s no doubt that today Habitat Pinellas is one of the highest ranked Habitat affiliates in the nation. In fact, we were just ranked number two in the nation based on new home production. Staff and volunteers work tirelessly to keep the mission going, and year after year the number of families we serve increases.


But a great organization starts with a solid foundation. Tom and Lynne Webster were one of the pillars of that foundation. Tom and Lynne sacrificed security for commitment. In the early 1980’s they left secure jobs to attend the six month director training program at Habitat International headquarters, during which they received free housing and a $60 per week stipend.


After completing the program, they committed their lives to full-time ministry work and Tom took the position of Director of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County. They initially lived out of a small house provided by Trinity United Church of Christ, earned no salary and received only a small stipend. Tom worked six days per week on average. At the time, Habitat Pinellas only had $3,000 in the bank. Tom credits his faith in God and said many miracles are what kept him going.


Tom served Habitat Pinellas from 1985 to 1993. His dedication and service resulted in 30 homes built during that time and helped lay a solid foundation for the tremendous growth we see today. We are very grateful for Tom and Lynne’s devotion and perseverance. Their sacrifices, tenacity and resolution paved the way for more than 500 families to receive a home of their own.


Thank you Tom & Lynne!