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Building on faith

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Chatham County Habitat launching biggest construction effort.

By Todd Cohen

PITTSBORO, N.C. [05.19 04] — Chatham Habitat for Humanity has launched its biggest construction project ever, an effort that will nearly double its total output since it was founded in 1989.

To build 36 homes in five to six years, up from 41 it has built so far, Habitat is counting on churches, which are a core constituency for many other Habitats but represent a new source of support in Chatham County.

“We just realized we were not getting in front of the faith community the way we could be,” says Kay Taylor, director of development.

While many Habitat affiliates were begun by churches, Chatham’s Habitat was founded by individual volunteers, particularly residents of the Fearrington community.

Recognizing it needed to expand its base of supporters to generate the volunteer time and the $25,000 in private needed to continue building houses, Habitat’s board of directors in late 2002 formed a church relations committee.

Members of the committee, chaired by retired Dannon executive Warner Eckman, began visiting the county’s more than 100 churches to tell Habitat’s story.

Thanks to that effort, Habitat now has kicked off its new Apostles Build initiative that will help create the new Westmont subdivision in Siler City.

The new community, which has begun with the start of construction on four houses, aims to serve the region’s growing Latino population.

“We’re seeing a strong change in the demographic here,” says Taylor.

Setting the stage for that effort, Habitat recently dedicated its first Apostles Build house, which was built in Bear Creek through a coalition of churches that raised the money and provided the volunteer labor.

Chatham Habitat also has been the recipient of two $10,000 grants from FaithWorks, a collaborative challenge-grant program launched last year by Habitat for Humanity International and the North Carolina Council of Churches.

The Catholic Diocese of North Carolina and The Duke Endowment in Charlotte both have contributed to the effort.

“This affiliate is doing everything right,” says Rebecca Hix, associate director of U.S. church relations for Habitat for Humanity International.

“They are calling new churches to join them, and they’re working with small churches,” she says, adding that small churches can make a big difference by combining what otherwise might seem small contributions.

Chatham Habitat, which is chaired by retired executive Bill Patchett, also raises money though direct-mail appeals, a “house party” in the spring, and a golf tournament in the fall.

The group’s second annual house party, which last year netted $9,000, will be held May 22 at the home of Karen and David Jessee near Jordan Lake.

The event this year aims to raise enough to cover the cost of building a new home.

Habitat’s fourth annual golf tournament, which last year netted $10,000, will held in October at the Governors Club and sponsored by Governors Club Realty.

Habitat also operates two retail stores in Pittsboro, Home Store and Home Store Too, that sell donated building and home supplies and last year generated enough revenue to cover the cost of two new houses.

Habitat’s biggest corporate supporters are Progress Energy and Honeywell, which operates a plant in Moncure.

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