May 17, 2008
BILOXI --After a solid week of working 10-hour days to build Angel Lewis' house on Huff Alley, a strange thing happened.
House Leader Dale Kirk waited to dedicate Lewis' Habitat for Humanity house to her in person, to wish her well and congratulate her on all her hard work. But just after meeting President and Mrs. Carter for a group photo, she left and didn't return.
So Willie Wilkerson, with 23 Carter Work Projects behind him, spoke to the team of about 20 who helped her build the house, and then they parted, to get back to their hotels, and back to their homes.
He said they were one of the best teams he's ever worked on, and in spite of the rain, they had gotten farther in building than nearly any team he's worked with.
"I've never done anything like this," said Kirk, of dedicating a home without the homeowner. He asked Wilkerson to do the dedication in his stead.
Lewis has a disabled father, for whom she is the sole caretaker. All week, she's been working alongside the team, and working at night at Belk Department Store. She's been on site every day, several hours a day.
It was a strange twist to a wild week.
It's been both good and bad, said Adcock and Chief Executive Officer Chris Montforton. The bad, they said, was the rain, which threw everyone's schedule off, including the ex-president.
"Obviously, we were hoping to get a little further" in the building process, Montforton said.
The good, he said, was the donation in cash and building materials of $4.8 million. The city of Biloxi donated two plots of land for houses. And the Salvation Army helped things go smoothly.
Starting next week, Habitat for Humanity of the Mississippi Gulf Coast will take the reins, using local and out-of-town help to complete Lewis' home and 59 others. This will bring Habitat's local effort to about 250 affordable homes by year's end, said Kent Adcock, director of business development and community relations.
Before Lewis can move in, she'll need to complete her 300 hours of sweat equity, about 38 eight-hour days either on her home or other Habitat homes. Of those hours, her friends and family can tackle 150. She'll need to take some credit counseling and financial planning workshops. And she has to have one year's insurance in escrow before Habitat lends her the money to buy her new home.
It may seem like a lot, Lewis said in a previous interview, but she's prepared.
"It's a long process, but it's well worth it. I'm not scared of a mortgage compared to rent," she said.