66th Habitat dedication was extra special event

 

The 66th Wicomico Habitat for Humanity home dedication and blessing ceremony on Oct. 21 was held at the new Salisbury home belonging to the Pierre family. 

Salisbury Independent readers typically only hear about the groundbreaking and the dedication of a Habitat for Humanity home. While these are important milestones, the back-story of the family and the application process gets overlooked.

With that in mind, I would like to share more about what happened before and after the wonderful 66th Wicomico Habitat for Humanity Home Dedication and blessing ceremony on Oct. 21 at the new Salisbury home belonging to the Pierre family.

Molly Hilligoss, Habitat Executive Director.

Pirter Pierre moved to the United States from Haiti in 2009, where the political environment in Haiti was not safe. He got a job in a chicken plant and slowly, one by one, he moved his wife, Margarette, and their four children to Salisbury.

I met Pirter in April 2015. He walked into our office on Isabella Street and picked up an application. I was worried that he didn’t understand me, but within a couple days, he was back with his application completed and all of the documents I needed.

His wife was pregnant with their sixth child and he wanted to become a homeowner. He wanted a better life for his children and knew the value of an education.

Since he was still learning English, I was challenged to find a way to both communicate with him and ensure he received the financial and homebuyer education we required as part of the Habitat for Humanity partnership.

Luckily, I found Telamon Corp. in Salisbury, which later partnered with us to teach financial literacy to our Haitian partner families.

When our family selection committee first met the Pierre family, they did a home visit. The conditions of their rental home were horrible. The home was so cold, clearly inadequately insulated. When I stopped by, everyone wore a winter coat inside the house.

Furniture was sparse. Space-heaters were running in each room, even though that was against the terms of his lease.

By the time his loan application was accepted by our board, baby No. 6 had arrived. Pirter, the proud daddy, brought his baby into my office to show off “Little Mike.”

 Coles Circle location

 Wicomico Habitat had just purchased the lot at 423 Coles Circle, next to another lot on which we were about to break ground. It was a perfect size and we thought  we could build the same floor plan side by side and save some construction costs.

We had just bought back the home on 312 Martin St. from the Roberts family, after they outgrew it. I knew it wasn’t ideal, but I asked Pirter if he would be willing to rent that home from us in December 2015, until we could complete his future home on Coles Circle.

It would mean that he and his wife and the two babies would share one room, the two boys in another and the two girls in the small bedroom.

He agreed and I felt better getting them out of the poor conditions they had been living in.

Both Pirter and Margerette worked at the Perdue Farms Downtown Salisbury plant. To ensure proper care of their babies, Margerette worked the morning shift and Pirter worked the evening shift.

I could never seem to get a group picture of his entire family — until the day of the ground-breaking in March 2016.

It took a lot of fundraising and more than 600 volunteers to help to build the Pierre’s house over the last 18 months. Pirter and his wife needed to complete 300 hours of sweat equity as part of their Habitat partnership.

The children were too young to work on the construction site, but good grades counted as sweat equity hours. I challenged the children to do their best so that they could have a vested interest in helping their parents. In that time, I got to know the children, saw their report cards as they earned sweat equity with A’s and B’s.

The family needed to complete 300 hours in sweat equity. A’s are worth 2 hours and B’s, 1 hour. Margerlita was a straight-A student. Clenda was accepted into the CTE program and Josias found engineering excited him. I could see the pride on Pirter’s face every time he brought their report cards into my office.

By Sept. 25, we were almost finished with construction when Pirter stopped by my office beaming. He showed me his certificate that has just arrived proving that he was now a U.S. citizen.

While we require a permanent residency card to purchase a home, I could feel his pride and said, “Let’s capture this moment” and he stood in front of our U.S. flag that hangs in Habitat’s ReStore. I snapped a picture and quickly posted it on Facebook.

 Dedication day

 On the day of the home dedication, it was a beautiful sunny day.

The Eastern Shore Reading Council arrived early and brought a bookcase filled with books to delight every age in the house and displayed it on the front porch. The Rev. Gary Morris blessed the home, speaking in both French Creole and English. The Asbury United Methodist Quilt Ministry donated seven quilts to the family.

I think what struck me the most was after the dedication when Clenda, age 16, asked me if I could help her and her mother. She didn’t know how to use the oven or dishwasher.

She had purchased frozen pizzas so she could serve a snack to the dedication visitors. I brought all of the teenagers into the kitchen and they translated to their mom while I showed how all the appliances worked.

They had never seen a dishwasher before and asked to show them how to load it. I showed them the correct soap pods to use and not the liquid that was sitting next to the sink. Then they asked me how to use the thermostat down the hall. When the pizzas were done, I asked where they kept their potholders; only to find out they didn’t own any.

After everyone left, I was chatting with the oldest daughter, who recently graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA. She shared with me that she was accepted into Salisbury University, but some type of error happened with her FAFSA. Her parents couldn’t figure out how to correct it and they didn’t own a computer.

Further, since she has her Green Card and not citizenship, it complicated matters. She was very discouraged and wasn’t getting any help. I promised to try to help her. We exchanged cell phone numbers and she quickly sent me a text message.

As I was about to leave, a donated dresser arrived from the Whistling Swan Antique store owned by The Hetherington’s. Josias, age 15, quickly claimed it for his room.

I smiled, hugged the kids and made a note to buy a couple of oven mits, a baking sheet and kitchen towels for their home. I also said a prayer in thanksgiving for having the privilege of helping this family purchase a safe, decent, affordable home.

The Habitat mission of building homes, communities and hope — came full circle for me that day.

Molly Hilligoss is Executive Director of Wicomico Habitat for Humanity.

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