What are you building this spring? How about a new home?

Mother Shannon hugs Johannah and Isabelle Chatman

Joy and pride pour out as the Chatman family finally knows … they’re home! (All photos by Lynne Golodner.)

A SURE SIGN OF SPRING is the flurry of activity as groups nationwide prepare to help with Habitat for Humanity projects. Here at ReadTheSpirit, we’re proud that one of our authors Lynne Golodner works with Habitat and we asked her to write about how one build transforms the life of one family—in this case, a US Army veteran and her daughters. Here is Lynne’s story …

By LYNNE GOLODNER

Johannah and Isabelle Chatman breezed by on their scooters on a recent Saturday morning, the last frost-bitten fingers of winter extending into the promise of budding spring. Their smiling faces turned up to the bright sky as people crowded into their front yard, excited to celebrate the dedication of their new home in Springfield Township, Michigan.

The Chatman girls, along with their brother Chance and mother Shannon, now live in a beautiful home on a lovely green piece of land, thanks to the efforts and beliefs of My Habitat Clarkston, a movement in the Clarkston community as part of the mission of Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County.

My Habitat Clarkston is a unique part of the worldwide effort to build houses, communities and hope one family at a time. The collaborative initiative brings together Clarkston Community Church, Calvary Lutheran Church, Clarkston State Bank and others—the library, an interior design firm, the local school district, a communications specialist and the local newspaper—all for the purpose of making home ownership a dream-come-true for Shannon Chatman.

A beautiful quilt from friends at Calvary Lutheran Church

A beautiful quilt for the Chatman family from friends at Calvary Lutheran Church.

Habitat for Humanity was created in 1976 by a vision that every hard-working family achieve the dream of home ownership. In America, buying a home always is a challenge. But, since the mortgage cloud burst in 2007-2008, the mortgage industry has been ever more gun-shy about approving home loans, making it even harder for deserving families to become homeowners.

Shannon Chatman’s story is one of those just-beyond-her-grasp situations. A veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces who has a flourishing social work career in foster care, Shannon has served our country, serves her community and is single-handedly doing a magnificent job of raising three incredible kids. She just happens to be passionate about and employed in a low-paying career field.

Shannon Chatman’s whole life has been dedicated to helping others. Before her current career, Shannon was an active duty Army officer, stationed in Germany and traveling the world before motherhood inspired her to return to the States to raise her family. Dedicated to helping others achieve success, happiness and stability, Shannon was frustrated that she could not guarantee her own family a stable home life.

“My income is not high enough as a single parent to provide stability for my family, but I know what I do as a social worker is important and helps families,” she says.

Shannon is the kind of person whose smile inspires others to smile. She is grateful, humble, energetic. Her petite presence belies a strength that many covet. At the home dedication, her arms wrapped around her girls and they snuggled in for the reassuring hugs guaranteed by a mother’s love. She didn’t stop smiling through the speeches and the gifts, the prayers and the hugs, and the final presentation of the key to her purple front door.

Over the past year, scores of people have volunteered on the build-site to erect Shannon’s home. That’s the nature of Habitat for Humanity—people coming together to build a home for a deserving family. They pound nails, pour concrete, carry long pieces of wood together. They dig in the dirt and deliver lunch, they laugh and hug.

Last fall, Shannon’s build site was the lucky location of a spontaneous visit from the world-famous country music duo Florida Georgia Line, securing nationwide TV news coverage in a flurry of excitement. All the while, Shannon humbly hung back, not in any way desiring the attention, just hopeful that one day, she could provide a home for her children.

After moving three times in six years, searching for a safe, affordable place to call home, Shannon was approved to become a Habitat homeowner in 2012. She says the experience was inspiring. Her home sits on a beautiful open lot framed by trees and quiet breezes. “Finally having a safe, secure and stable home to raise my family will give me peace of mind and set my children on the path to success,” she says.

Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County CEO Tim Ruggles

Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County CEO Tim Ruggles

Habitat for Humanity is a grassroots organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty and substandard housing. Habitat accepts donated homes or lots, and builds or renovates them in partnership with qualifying families, who pay an affordable mortgage provided through Habitat. Worldwide, Habitat has built and renovated more than 1 million houses since 1976.

Celebrating its 20th year, Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County has built and renovated homes for more than 190 families in Oakland County, Michigan, during its two decades in existence. Its very first homeowner, Doreen Marquis, was able to send her children to college because she was secure in the knowledge that her home was safe and affordable. She advanced her own career after becoming a Habitat homeowner and now has grandchildren—the third generation to achieve and thrive all because their family was built on the foundation of homeownership.

Habitat’s vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. The non-profit is driven by this mission: Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.

At Shannon Chatman’s home dedication, Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County CEO Tim Ruggles, a very tall and commanding leader who speaks in strong, measured steps, handed an envelope to Shannon. It contained a gift certificate he’d won at a My Habitat Clarkston benefit event, offering a weekend with a Cadillac and four tickets to a Beatlemania show.

“I never win anything,” Tim said to the crowd on Shannon’s driveway and in her yard. Except for his steady voice and birds chirping in nearby trees, the morning was perfectly quiet. “And as I lay in bed last night, about to go to sleep, my wife said, ‘We have to give this to Shannon.’” As he said the words, his voice choked with emotion, his eyes glistening with tears. He handed the envelope to Shannon and clasped her in a big bear hug.

American Legion Post Number 63

Shannon Chatman is a US Army veteran. American Legion Post #63 posted the colors and stood, rifles at their sides.

The men and women of American Legion Post #63, in full uniform, posted the colors, rifles and American flags at their sides.

A woman from Calvary Lutheran Church presented a handmade quilt to Shannon and her girls.

Friends of the Springfield Township Library brought a bag of books and gift cards, artist Tim Yanke’s Yankee Doodle painting was presented in a substantial black frame to hang on her wall.

In the end, the journey toward home ownership is one that most people cannot do alone. It is the American dream, to have a place to call home, a safe place to come back to every night, to swing on tires roped onto a tree branch, to coast on scooters down the dirt road to the homes of newfound best friends.

Community makes a life worthwhile. And in this case, it takes a community to build a home, to put down roots in the soil and trust that with water and sunshine, they will grow tall, strong and far-reaching, many years into the future.

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