CHATTANOOGA, TN - "There's no place like home for the holidays," as the familiar song says. Three Chattanooga families have taken possession of the new Habitat for Humanity Homes this month, just in time for the holidays!

"House dedications are the highlight of the Habitat experience," says Pete Palmer, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area. "What a privilege it is to be able to witness people at the moment when they receive the key to a new home, not as a gift, but as something they have worked for and that has been made possible by our community coming together. We have been blessed to share the joy as three families have embarked on their new life as home buyers this month!"

While the stories of these families vary widely, there are common threads. "Whether the economy is good or bad, there are always people in our community who do not have the resources to purchase a home at market rates," says Palmer. "They have jobs, they have families, and they have the same hopes and dreams we all have, but affordability is a challenge for them. Instead of enjoying the stability of a home, they are forced to find shelter in rental properties that may be unsafe, too expensive or dangerous, particularly if they have children."

"Besides these challenges, Habitat home buyers often have overcome even more challenging circumstances," says Palmer. "Amy Kerin is a determined woman who has dreamed of owning her own home, and who refuses to let Spina Bifida and being wheel-chair bound slow her down. Pat Watters is a grandmother who cares for her disabled granddaughter. Ndawemerikibi Shabani and his wife, Nkurikiye Neziya are refugees who had survived war in Burundi, flight to the Congo, war there, and flight to Tanzania before making it to Chattanooga to start a new life."

"Homes for these people would not have been possible without the dedicated work of hundreds of community volunteers, Habitat's financial and material donation partners and Habitat's construction staff under Director of Construction Dennis Neal who works tirelessly to keep construction rolling," Palmer says.

As the calendar year turns to the New Year, more families are waiting for their homes to be built. "We have volunteers ready to build, new families working through our program and some grant resources," says Palmer, "But our output of homes is limited right now because of funding. Securing land and building an affordable home requires $90,000 in materials and services, even when we use as many volunteers and as much donated materials we do. We are currently looking for people, groups, churches and businesses to join with our efforts by supporting our new "Raise the Roof" fund. Donations to this fund will allow us to build new homes while beginning to expand our services to include rehab projects and home repairs."

While some families need the reset only a new home brings, others can be helped with smaller interventions according to Palmer. "By broadening our horizons, we hope to increase the number of lives we are able to touch, give more people opportunities to serve and to create increased impact on housing issues in Chattanooga."

"If you have an interest in partnering with Habitat, we have many opportunities available," says Palmer. "Give us a call at 423-756-0507 or visit us online at www.habichatt.org, www.transformchattanooga.org, or on Facebook to learn more about how you can help us raise the roof on hope for more families in 2012. With your help we can create opportunity for families, and a brighter future for our community."

Amy's Story

Amy Kerin and her service dog Guinness are the proud owners of a new, fully handicap accessible Habitat for Humanity home is complete thanks to the support of community volunteers, the City of Chattanooga's Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the Coming Back Home partnership between the Tennessee Housing Development Agency and Habitat for Humanity of Tennessee.

Over the years, the design of the apartments where she lived has presented many challenges for Amy who was born with Spina Bifida and has always needed a wheelchair. When she was younger, she was able to be more independent, but due to time and increased pain, she now needs assistance with the tasks of daily living and must wait for help. "There is a real difference between places that are ‘accessible' to those of us in wheelchairs, and those that are ‘functional,' for us," Amy says.

Even if she could get into an apartment or home, she couldn't be independent because of the height of counter tops, cabinets and the stove, and she also has to have assistance to shower. "The only way to be independent is to have a house built to be functional for you," says Amy. "But on a limited income that is not going to happen." "I had always known about Habitat, but one morning I woke up and said ‘I'm calling Habitat to see about getting a house, '" she said. Amy completed the application process and was accepted into the program. Construction on the home began in mid-June. The home was dedicated December 3, and now Amy has moved in.

Amy's home contains a variety of modifications including a front loading washer and dryer, lowered cabinets, roll-in shower, 0 grade entrance and deck, lowered light switches and a high tech pet door for Guinness.

Amy's home was primarily funded by the City of Chattanooga, Department of Neighborhood Services and Community Development's Neighborhood Stabilization Project under Mayor Ron Littlefield, with additional support from Coming Back Home initiative, a statewide partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Housing Development Agency's (THDA) Housing Trust Fund toward the construction of 45 Habitat for Humanity homes across the state.

Shabani and Neziya's Story

Ndawemerikibi Shabani and his wife, Nkurikiye Neziya are the parents of Bahati Magdalene, a current Habitat homeowner. Displaced by civil war in Burundi, the family fled to the Congo where Bahati was born. When war broke out in the Congo they were displaced again to Tanzania and eventually made it to Chattanooga where they are making a new start with their five other children. "After so much conflict, it is a privilege for us to be able to help this family find a safe harbor in our community," says Pete Palmer, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area.

Their home was donated to Habitat for refurbishment through the Neighborhood Stabilization program coordinated by the City of Chattanooga's Department of Neighborhood Services and Community Development under Mayor Ron Littlefield.

Pat Watter's Story

Pat Watters and her granddaughter, Autiyana Hester (12), have struggled to get by in their tiny house. Autiyana was born with cerebral palsy, has seizures and is partially deaf. These disabilities limit her to a wheelchair. Pat takes care of her granddaughter, but it is hard to move around their house with the heavy wheelchair. Pat said, "It is hard to push my grand baby because of the carpet floors." The house they formerly lived in was old, in bad shape, not handicap accessible, and so is unsafe for Autiyana.

Pat's journey to homeownership began several years ago when Gail Pollock, former Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area taught a class about Habitat at Pat's church. Pat applied to join the program but was not accepted at that time. Pat reapplied in 2010, and was soon on track for a new handicap accessible home for her and her granddaughter.

Even though Autiyana does not completely understand what is going on because she is deaf, Pat knows that she will feel the difference in the new home. Pat believes that Autiyana will be excited to feel the smoothness of the floors and how easy it will be to move around in the larger space. Also, Pat is excited about the location of the new home. "It was an answer to prayers that our new home is on a corner lot," said Pat. She holds meetings at her house for family and friends and is excited about the accessible parking to the corner lot.

"I am excited and grateful for such a wonderful, Christian organization," said Pat. She said she enjoys working with Habitat because of their generous attitudes and love of people. "Like my pastor says, ‘Have better, Live better, Do better,'" said Pat about Habitat's mission and willingness to help.

Construction of Pat's home was funded by the City of Chattanooga, Department of Neighborhood Services and Community Development's Neighborhood Stabilization Project under Mayor Ron Littlefield.