Courier Staff Writer
When Catina Craig heads home from working on the third shift at Grote Industries this week, for the first time in her life she will pull into her own driveway, walk up onto her own front porch and turn the key in a door that unlocks her future.
Which just became a whole lot brighter.
And it wouldn't have been possible without Habitat for Humanity, community volunteers and Catina's countless hours of sweat equity over the last year.
"It's been a long time coming," Craig said, smiling as she eyed her brand-new, two-bedroom home nestled in the shadow of century-old trees and beneath the protection of a steep hill. "I'm very, very excited. It really is a dream of a lifetime come true."
Craig, who has lived in Madison all her life and is a longtime employee of Grote, and her 12-year-old daughter, Sadie Wells, began moving their belongings into the home shortly after a dedication ceremony Saturday. Nearly 40 members of the community who had donated money, materials, and their time and talent to the project attended the event. Craig's is the tenth home that Habitat's local chapter, Heart of Madison, has awarded to a qualifying resident since it was created in 1994. After the dedication, Habitat board members and volunteers toured the home and enjoyed coffee and doughnuts.
On hand for the dedication was Madison Mayor Al Huntington, who praised all those who helped make the project a reality.
"This is a great success story for the community, the family and Habitat for Humanity," he said. "It has given a family the chance to own a home and feel that they have a center for their life."
The 900-square-foot, cottage-like home, located at the north end of East Street, comes complete with a large fully-equipped kitchen and great room, oversized bath and utility rooms, and an ample deck off the back door. A large barn-style storage building with cedar siding is situated in one corner of the backyard, something provided to every Habitat homeowner.
Craig contributed to becoming a homeowner.
"She met all the sweat-equity requirements and paid all the pre-pays, taxes and insurance for the first year," said Claude Routon, who is building co-chairman along with local builder and County Commissioner Tom Pietrykowski.
Habitat for Humanity will hold two mortgages for Craig - one that represents the cost of the dwelling and a second mortgage that is for the difference between the cost and the assessed value of the house.
"After 20 years of making the payments, she can sell the property and keep the profit," he said.
Habitat President Bill Ohlendorf fought back tears as he recited words from the Bible, which was followed by a blessing of the house by Habitat vice president and soon-to-be-president Becky Routon. Her husband, Claude, continued the formal dedication of the home with the traditional Litany of Dedication.
"As a symbol of cooperative good will, work and sharing," he began with attendees promptly responding, "We dedicate this house."
"That this house may serve as a place for rest, shelter and laughter," he continued, reciting a total of six dedication prayers to formally make the house Craig's.
"If we keep this up, everybody here will have a decent, affordable home someday," he said.
During the ceremony, Craig was presented with a family Bible. She immediately removed the plastic covering, ran her hand over the cover and closed her eyes momentarily.
A total of 38 volunteers from the community and 25 businesses and individuals who made donations contributed to the project. Among the volunteers were Michelle and Donnie Sandlin, Habitat's newest partner family, who put down the sod for Craig's house as their first sweat-equity project. In a few months, the Sandlins, along with son Donnie, 15, and daughter Emily, 8, will move into a home in Hanover that is being renovated by Habitat.
"The home in Hanover is actually the very first home we built," Ohlendorf said. "The people who were living there decided to move out and we took it over, getting it ready for another family."
Habitat for Humanity is a Christian-based nonprofit organization with a goal to eliminate all poor housing in America and offer everyone the opportunity to experience the pride of home ownership. Habitat is always on the lookout for grant money, land, contributions and more volunteers to help raise the standard of living in local communities. Habitat's future project plans include "going green," using materials that are environmentally-friendly, Ohlendorf said.
"We do not give away housing, a popular belief," he said. "Applicants must meet guidelines, complete their sweat-equity hours and pay pre-pays before we hand over the key. Then, they are expected to make their mortgage payments on time."
Americus, Ga., the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity, is now a proud community that has eliminated all poverty housing.
"Once we have completed 20 homes locally, that will be enough money coming in to become a perpetual fundraiser," he said. "Also, we hope that the new homeowners will turn around and volunteer on other projects - a way they can give back to their community."
Gina Thompson and Kathy Burris, longtime friends of Craig's, toured her home, commenting on the cheerful colors Sadie, who will celebrate her 13th birthday this month, chose to decorate her room.
"Sadie picked them out herself and even helped paint the room," Burris said. "Catina and Sadie lived in a tiny, cramped house before. This will be so much nicer."
Judy Hoffman, Craig's advocate during the year-long process, broke into tears when she hugged Habitat's newest homeowner and relayed to the audience what Craig had gone through to make her dream come true.
"It's hard to put into words what it means to us," Craig told Hoffman and the volunteers who stood nearby. "I never thought I would ever own a home of my own. We were prepared to rent the rest of our lives. There are so many volunteers who made it all possible.
"We are so blessed."
HER VERY OWN ROOM: Sadie Wells, 12, arranged the furniture in her colorful new room in the recently completed Habitat for Humanity home that she and her mother, Catina Craig, moved into on Saturday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
TURNING OVER THE KEYS: Catina Craig stood by Bill Ohlendorf, president of the local Habitat for Humanity group, during the official presentation of the home to Craig and her daughter Sadie Wells on Saturday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)