tarra-jean-louis_web.jpgThree single mothers got to ring in the new year with a new lease on life. Literally. At a Home Dedication Ceremony Saturday, Tarra Jean-Louis, Ameta Graham and Pandora Hardy were officially declared first-time homeowners.

The women and their families were selected as recipients of three new homes under a program sponsored by JM Family Enterprises, in partnership with H­abitat for Humanity of Broward County.  The homes are located at 375 NW 27th Ter., 395 NW 27th Ter. and 302 NW 28th Ter., Fort Lauderdale, on land donated by Broward County.

But they were not just recipients. The families were active from the beginning to the end of the construction of each house.

“Each family was required to put in 500 sweat equity hours toward the building of their home,” said Robert W. Leider, chairman of the board of Habitat for Humanity Broward County.

To date, the Broward chapter of Habitat has built more than 300 homes in Broward County but the homes of Jean-Louis, Graham and Hardy are first of their kind.

The homes have been constructed to comply with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification indicating they are environmentally friendly.

It is the first time Habitat homes received the gold certification.

“Habitat was already building to LEED bronze standards,” said Jason Crush, executive director of Habitat Broward. “Within the last year, we decided to step it up to gold.”

JM Family Enterprises provided the financial backing for the construction and all the volunteers for this project were JM Family associates, nearly 180 of whom donated more than 2,000 hours.

“We want our associates to be involved and want to give back to their communities,” said Colin Brown, JM president and CEO.

“The objective of our philanthropy department is to focus on strengthening communities and building stronger families,” Brown said in an interview.
“There’s nothing more tangible than providing a stable home environment for a family.”

Jean-Louis now has her own home in which to raise her family. She and her children, Shervin, 14, Janaé, 11, De’ja, 6, and Derris, 2, were living in a two-bedroom apartment when she applied to be considered for a Habitat home.

“When they came to see our apartment, they couldn’t believe all of us lived there,” Jean-Louis said about Habitat’s initial home screening visit. “But I did what I could for us to make it.”

Graham and her children—Joseph, 21, QuaNeika, 18, and Calviana, 8, who provided a tour of their new home, described it as “like Wonderland.”
“Like, is it real? Is it true? But we are really here, in our beautiful home,” she said.

Hardy, too, still finds it hard to believe she has the keys to a new home.

“I’m just blessed,” she said.  “I worked hard for my home but it was so worth it.”

The women had no illusion that their homes would be merely a gift. From the application to the selection, it was a tough process. Habitat for Humanity is not in the business of giving away homes.

“It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” said Leider.

Habitat received more than 1,200 applications and the list was narrowed to between 35 and 40, from which Jean-Louis, Graham and Hardy were selected.

 “These families are the best of the best,” Leider said.

Once selected, the families are required to attend monthly workshops — the HomeWORKS Adult Homebuyer Education Program and the Blueprints4Life Youth Enrichment Program for children ages 10-17—that address topics such as financial literacy, cleanliness and home maintenance, preventative health care, effective parenting, hurricane preparation and energy conservation.

As part of the “sweat equity,” the families also help in the construction of other Habitat homes.

“It was hard work,” said Hardy’s son Ahmad, 22.

“A lot of hard work,” added her daughter, Arlecia, 17.

“I watched it being built,” said Akeyla, 15, her youngest daughter, who was too young to help with construction. “And I can’t believe we’re actually living here now.” 

The road to homeownership does not end once the families have moved in. They were selected not only based on need but on their ability, as well. As part of their agreement with Habitat, Jean-Louis, Graham and Hardy are still financially responsible for their properties. They must pay monthly expenses, just as any other homeowner, including insurance and the mortgage, though that comes interest-free.

The dedication ceremony was a culmination of the nearly year-long experience, garnished with various tokens of affections—from plaques to memory books—shared by everyone involved.

The homeowners hugged and expressed thanks and reflected on the stages of their hopes and anxieties. They went from diving blindly into a pool of applications to seeing their homes constructed, the result of them putting in hours of hard work.

Volunteers and contributors received their thanks, gratified with the results of their efforts.

“I like volunteering for Habitat because, by giving a bit of my time, I am able to help someone else in a big way,” said Carey Warburton, a JM Family associate and Habitat volunteer. “I also enjoy working with the future homeowners and getting to know them, as well as interacting with different people from my company who are all dedicated to the Habitat mission.”
Tranika Fagan may be reached at Tranikafagan@gmail.com.