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Building Skyward with Habitat for Humanity of Walton County

August 17, 2017 by Manny Chavez

Habitat for Humanity of Walton County helps to create homes, improve lives, and build community bridges.

Through volunteer contributions of time and money, and partnership programs, homes are built for low to moderate income families in the community.

“A lot of people think we give houses away but we actually partner with habitat families. So whatever it costs us to build a house is what the homeowner pays back at zero percent interest,” explains Habitat for Humanity of Walton County Executive Director Teresa Imdieke. “This makes it much more affordable for the home owner. Each home is built by volunteers including siding and cabinet installation. We are essentially doing away with the labor cost of the home construction.”

The program requires every qualified family to give 250 sweat-equity hours (hours spent helping to build their future home) per adult going into the home. This is a very “hands on” program that is a source of pride for the new home owner/builder and results in manageable monthly house payments. According to the most recent United Way ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, over 58% of Walton County cannot meet their basic daily needs.

“People can’t afford to live here,” says Teresa. “So businesses can’t hire quality staff. Sometimes there are three families living in one place. Food, housing and daycare are just not affordable to a majority of Walton County residents. We refer to them as the ‘working poor’. What has been deemed to be ‘affordable housing’ is still out of reach for a lot of folks.”

Habitat Walton County has helped families in all walks of life get a foothold on affordable housing.

“We have families who worked for decades for local businesses who have, for one reason or another (sickness, job accidents, job layoffs, etc.) are faced with not being able to pay their rent, have lost their health insurance, or struggle with everyday food purchases.”

Teresa is passionate about Habitat for Humanity of Walton County programs.  They built five homes last year, the most built in one year (three in Santa Rosa Beach, two in DeFuniak Springs). The last Walton Habitat home built brought the total to 47 homes built in the past 20 years. Homes are totally built by local funding. Some funding comes from the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, Rex Lumber, and St. Joe.

The Walton County Habitat ReStore store located on Hwy 393 South, just south of Hwy. 98, provides revenue to help build houses and pays for all operations. Every dollar that is donated to Habitat goes to building houses. Open at its present location (the store was formally located in Freeport) only three years now, the store is a niche store carrying building supplies, cabinets, toilets, windows, sinks, etc. Low cost merchandise is available to the community.

“There is so much Walton County construction going on here and our ReStore can accept construction material donations that would otherwise end up in the landfills. We are a re-cycling center of sorts for these construction materials. Fixtures, tile, flooring, doors, are all available with many items ‘like new’,” continues Teresa.

The ReStore location is easy to miss. Driving north on Hwy 393 from Gulf Place, just before hitting Hwy 98, the store sits on the left with a small building (formally a fire station), tiny sign, and just a few items usually on display on the outside. Inside, household items (lighting fixtures, door knobs, fans, furniture, etc.) are aplenty and priced very affordably. But once you go behind “the green fence”, you will be amazed at the vast array of appliances, doors, cabinets, sinks, furniture, bathroom fixtures, kitchen fixtures, etc. that are all spread out either openly or under pole barns and storage pods.

“We keep tons of materials out of landfills,” says ReStore Manager Romey Pall. "The ReStore does pick up larger donations and all appliances are tested prior to being sold. We even use recycled materials if we find a need for them. For example, our pole barns are walled off by huge re-cycled billboards that we acquired.”

Who knew? Romey is also very passionate about his work with the ReStore. As the store manager, he sees firsthand how the community benefits from purchases made at a fraction of the cost. More than 7,400 transactions were made last year. The ReStore has outgrown itself and Habitat for Humanity Walton County is working on purchasing property for future use. With the help of an Impact Grant, donations, and ReStore sales, Teresa is hopeful of being able to function “out of the rain” on a larger footprint.

“We just need a bigger place,” explains Teresa. “Currently, we’re always fighting the rain. We hate having to throw things away when it could go to a family at a reasonable price. Once a suitable location is found, we will need $1.2 million to build our building which will have to come from revenues, financing, and donors.”

Upcoming events which benefit Habitat for Humanity Walton County include The Bloody Mary Festival, Oct. 7 at Market Shops and The Harvest Wine and Food Festival, Nov.2-4 at WaterColor. On Oct. 20, Women’s Build Day will be held at the Habitat building sites, 49 and 69 North 6th Street, Santa Rosa Beach. This women-only event will have hands-on instruction in the art of hanging blinds, installing floor trim, caulking, painting, appliance installation, using power tools, and more. Women teaching women how to build or work on literally anything in the house.
For more information, to donate, or to volunteer, please call 850- 660-1681 (Habitat for Humanity Walton County) or 850-660-6004 (ReStore), visit web site, www.waltoncountyhabitat.org. Location: 110 S. Co. Hwy. 393, just south of Hwy. 98. Hours of operation, Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

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Manny Chavez

Manny has been a working photojournalist his entire career and is now writing stories/taking pix for SoWal.com. He and his wife Kris live in Seagrove and have “seen a lot come and go.” Lots of stories have been told, with lots more to come!

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