In the News 2004


A dream comes true for Habitat family

Herb Distefano (l), a friend of Habitat, and Fred Richardson (r), chairman of the Louisa County Habitat for Humanity steering committee, help Tracy Shiflett break ground on the land where his new Habitat home will soon stand.

By Megan Smiley
The Central Virginian
Sept. 30, 2004

Theresa Smith’s voice raises with excitement when she talks about the wonderful opportunity her family has just been given. It is, indeed, a dream come true for them, she said.
Because of Louisa County Habitat for Humanity, Smith, and her boyfriend, Tracy Shiflett, will be able to raise their three small children, Owen, Elijah and Whitney, in a nice house on three and a half acres in the Green Springs community.
It will be the first time the young couple has ever lived in a real house with their little ones. Currently, the clan is crammed into a tiny mobile home at the Mineral Trailer Park.
“I feel like there are people who might need it more than us, but we do need it,” Smith said. “We live in a two-bedroom trailer. Whitney stays in our room and the boys share the other.”
Soon, the family will not have that issue. Their new home, located on Valentine Mill Road, will be approximately 1,000 square-feet with three bedrooms and one full bath, plus a huge backyard.
“The best thing about it is the location,” Smith said. “I almost cried the first time I saw it. It is a perfect place to raise our kids.”
Although construction on the structure will not begin until March, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the plot on Sun., Sept. 19.
Donated by Historic Green Springs Inc., the parcel is in a secluded wooded area about two miles from Trevilians Elementary School, where Smith and Shiflett’s kids will attend.
In order to qualify for the new Habitat home, the couple had to meet several requirements, according to Estelle Rainsford, director of the Louisa County chapter of the Charlottesville affiliate to the Habitat for Humanity International.
For one, they had to have a combined income of less than $26,200 a year. In addition, Smith and Shiflett had to commit to performing 100 hours of community service on another Habitat project, and 200 hours on their own home.
“We don’t have a babysitter or anyone to watch our kids, so we take turns,” said Smith, who, with Shiflett, compiled their 100 hours this spring working on Belinda Johnson’s Habitat home on South Street in the town of Louisa.
Another stipulation for receiving a Habitat home is that the couple must be able to pay the mortgage each month.
“Basically, Habitat pays for the house, and the family pays Habitat back. There is no interest and a set payment each month,” Rainsford said. “The term of their mortgage is based on their income, so it could take anywhere from 15 to 33 years to pay off.”
Though the house would normally cost over $100,000 to build, because the labor is all performed by volunteers, the couple will only have to pay about $60,000 for their new home.
“Their mortgage payments go into the fund for humanity, and it helps us build more houses,” said Rainsford.
Churches, businesses and private donors also contribute a generous amount to the organization each year.
“We have a nice donor base in Louisa, though we need it to grow in order to build two houses a year,” Rainsford added.
Still, with so many good-hearted people in the community, Rainsford is optimistic that the cause will spread.
Smith, for one, is now a big believer in the miracle of Habitat.
“The process was easy. I want everyone to know that if you need it, it is definitely worth a shot,” she said. “We are so thankful for Estelle and the people at Habitat. It is hard to give up your Saturday and volunteer to help someone else build a home. They are not benefitting from it. They are just nice people who care.”
For Rainsford, members of Historic Green Springs Inc. and others who have helped contribute to the new home, it has been a pleasure.
“It is a great honor for [us] to be part of the important work that Habitat for Humanity is doing in our community,” said Rae Ely, president of Historic Green Springs Inc. “We think this house will be a real addition to the neighborhood, and we are very impressed with the young couple and their children. We were glad to be able to make this donation.”
Although Habitat typically builds simple and affordable houses, the Shiflett/Smith home in Green Springs will feature some exterior architectural details similar to surrounding homes.
“I don’t think we could have asked for a better place,” said Smith. “We are so excited, happy and thankful. This is a really good thing for us. It’s gonna be a new start, and knowing that you have something so big to look forward to is exciting. It is important to have your kids grow up some place that is special, and this really is.”
Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 in Americus, Georgia, and the Louisa County chapter was started the summer of 2001.
A Christian-based civic organization, Habitat recently achieved the milestone of having built 175,000 homes worldwide.
For more information, contact Habitat at (434) 293-9066.



Habitat’s first Summer in the Garden

By M. Wynn Volz
The Central Virginian
June 24, 2004

Louisa County Habitat for Humanity held its first Summer in the Garden benefit on Sat., June 19 at Earlyhouse on Yanceyville Road in Louisa.
Seventy-five donors, volunteers and others interested in Habitat’s mission, attended the outdoor event on the beautiful grounds of Earlyhouse which is operated by Bruce and Kathy Stiles.
Attendees listened to the music of jazz vocalist Catherine Carraway and guitarist George Turner of Charlottesville during dinner, and enjoyed the offerings of Ginger Hill In-Home Cooking of Louisa and the wines of Jefferson Vineyards of Albemarle County.
There was also a silent auction with many wonderful donated items. The auction brought a total of $1,322.
Beth Ann Boone, the chairperson of this event was pleased with the support of the community.
“What a great success for our first event. I can only hope that future events will be as enjoyable as this one. It was awesome to volunteer for Habitat as you meet such a variety of people who all come together to help others,” said Boone.
Among the guests were former Del. V. Earl Dickinson and his wife, Mary Lou, who are regular supporters of Habitat, as well as Martha McIntire who said, “We all thought it was a smashing event, and I thought Earlyhouse was just the perfect setting.”
Estelle Rainsford, chapter director, shared the same joy over the event and the degree of participation.
“It was just great to see people from different parts of the county come together in the name of Habitat. We have something wonderful going here.
“This event was primarily a celebration of the accomplishments of Louisa Habitat’s first three years. It was a wonderful venue for getting our donors and volunteers together under one roof to share in that celebration. It was especially pleasing that some of the invitees brought guests and we look forward to those guests’ future partnership with our mission,” said Rainsford.
Many businesses and individuals contributed to the success of the dinner and silent auction: Bruce and Kathy Stiles of Earlyhouse; Ron and Ginger Ellis, Ginger Hill In-Home Cooking; jazz vocalist Catherine Carraway and guitarist George Turner of Charlottesville; The Central Virginian; Memories on Main; Lake Country Power; Glenn Briggs—Fishing Lake Anna; Salon DeShano; Lemon’s Jewelry; Southern States; Louisa Hardware; Louisa Junior Women’s Club; Tom Boone of Boone’s Forge; the P. Buckley Moss Foundation; the Great Frame Up; JFullmer Designs; Vyvyan Powers; Raggedy Sue’s Antiques; Lake Country Power and Sport; Billy Budd, photographer; Penny Best, photographer; Jefferson Vineyards; Louisa Flower Shop; John Grisham; and the Thodos family.
Committee members included Beth Ann Boone, chair, Jennifer Fullmer, Estelle Rainsford, Kathy Stiles, Mary Thodos, Wynn Volz and Yvette Williamson.
The committee met once a month to plan for the event and did the coordination and set up on Friday and Saturday, returning on Sunday to clean up.
Helping out on Saturday evening were future Habitat partners Katrina Davis of Charlottesville and Theresa Smith of Mineral.
Louisa County Habitat began as a chapter of the Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity in 2001.
Since its inception, the Louisa Chapter has raised sufficient funds to complete one home per year in the county with the generous help of donations from Louisa County churches, businesses, individuals and volunteers. Its future goal is to build two homes a year.
All funds raised for Louisa Habitat are restricted for the sole use of building homes in Louisa County.
Skilled and unskilled volunteers are needed for the construction of the third home which will begin shortly.
Individuals willing to lend their talents to site supervision on two Saturdays per year, or lead a smaller crew on a Saturday, as well as churches that are willing to send a work crew, should contact Rainsford at (540) 967-0486 or e-mail esteller
Committee members are also needed on church relations, fund raising, communications, family selection, annual benefit, advisory board, warehouse and special events. To volunteer, please call Rainsford at the number above.
Contributions may be sent to Louisa County Habitat for Humanity, P. O. Box 1179, Louisa, VA 23093.



A dream realized — the Johnsons get a new home

By Deana Meredith
The Central Virginian
May 27, 2004

Belinda Johnson had long dreamed of a home she could call her own for herself and her two sons— somewhere in the town of Louisa, close to where she has worked for the past 19 years since she can’t drive because of her poor eyesight.
At the end of March, her ardent prayers were answered when she and Draone, 14, and Keyon, 18, packed up their belongings and moved from the two-bedroom apartment they shared in the McDonald Street Apartments to their new three bedroom house on South St.
Though the move wasn’t far away, just down the street, really, Johnson couldn’t have been happier.
“Lord, it is some kind of beautiful,” she said. “It is like a dream home.”
Johnson first learned about the Louisa County Habitat for Humanity nearly two years ago from her cousin, Debbie Johnson, and saw the program as a way to possibly attain her dream. She attended a meeting to learn more about Habitat, then went through the application and qualification process.
There were several applicants hoping to be chosen for Louisa Habitat’s second housing project, and Johnson said that the staff at Habitat didn’t make any promises. However, Johnson’s desire for a yard for her children and granddaughter to play in drove her to seek approval.
“Every mother wants her own house for her children one day,” she said.
One afternoon, Johnson got a telephone call from Estelle Rainsford, director of Louisa County Habitat for Humanity. Rainsford was calling with good news—uttering the magic words, “You got approval.”
“I was just so happy and that made my day,” said Johnson. “I was excited.”
Almost immediately, Johnson dove in and began acquiring the sweat equity hours which all new Habitat home beneficiaries must contribute as part of the agreement. She embraced the project, and by the time work began on her own home, Johnson had more than met the sweat equity requirements.
Johnson and her sons helped build the first Louisa Habitat home awarded to Sherry Wright in the Walnut Woods Subdivision, worked on the von Hemert House next door to their own, and another on Red Hill Rd. in western Louisa that was being built by the Greater Charlottesville Habitat for Humanity, as well as their own house.
When Johnson first arrived on the Wright’s home site, all she could do was hand out nails to the volunteers and clean up trash.
Johnson gradually acquired the skills of the trade through hands-on training, eventually helping to hang sheet rock, install siding and trim, paint and frame a project.
“I got to learn a lot of stuff that I didn’t know how to do,” she said.
Although it was hard work, Johnson enjoyed the weekends she was off from her housekeeping job at the Louisa Healthcare Center. She particularly relished being with all of the volunteers and meeting different people throughout construction of each of the projects.
“It was really nice to see people working hard together, like a team,” she said. “Everybody was so friendly to you.”
The switch from apartment life to homeowner has been like a cathartic to Johnson, who said that in the cramped living conditions of an apartment community, there is always noise and people to contend with.
“Over here it’s quiet,” she said. “People are friendly and stay to themselves.”
Although Keyon wasn’t home when The Central Virginian interviewed Johnson, Draone was quick to share his feelings about living in a new house. In addition, being able to own pets now—he has acquired an iguana and a dog—Draone likes the fact that he doesn’t have to share a room with his older brother anymore.
The 1,050-square-foot house contains two levels, necessary because of the narrow steep slope of the lot. On the main floor are a large kitchen, dining area, living room, master bedroom and bath, while the basement area features two bedrooms and a laundry area.
“I like that the boys are downstairs and I’m upstairs,” she said. “And I can do my own laundry at home. That’s exciting.”
Habitat allowed Johnson to choose her own tile, carpet, kitchen cabinets and other interior items. She has filled the house with furniture, photos and other items which make a house a home, including sentimental family pieces.
Having control of her own property is another benefit of home ownership that Johnson enjoys.
“I like the whole environment,” she said. “I have peace.”
The cost of owning a home is actually less expensive than paying rent on an apartment, said Johnson, who is paying monthly on a 25-year mortgage through Habitat. Even better, she agreed, is the fact that eventually she will fully own the property.
Many people want to own their own home, said Johnson, as do some of her friends at work.
“All they [Habitat] can do is tell you yes or no. There’s never a harm to trying,” she said. “I took a chance to see if I could get it. It turned out for me. Look what I’ve got.”
Enthusiastic about the Habitat for Humanity program, Johnson said she is willing to continue volunteering on other peoples’ houses in the future.
“Working for someone else to have a house for their kids, I don’t mind. I don’t mind it, because somebody helped my family,” she said. “The Lord blessed me with one [a home], and I’d love to see somebody else as happy.”



von Hemert House — sets the pace for rural Virginia
Offers a transitional emergency shelter for community needs

By Deana Meredith
The Central Virginian
May 27, 2004

The Louisa County Habitat for Humanity, in partnership with the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation, dedicated two houses on South St. in the town of Louisa on Sunday afternoon — the von Hemert House and the home of Belinda Johnson, the local chapter’s second Habitat house.
The projects were a result of a union between the two organizations, which shared the costs associated with hiring a project manager to oversee construction of Louisa Habitat’s second home and a transitional emergency shelter to benefit families in need.
Believed to be the first of its kind in rural Virginia, the von Hemert house offers families in need of a temporary place to live until permanent arrangements can be made.
“We had been thinking about this for years,” said Howard Evergreen, director of the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation. “We were ecstatic to get this done.”
With the assistance of area Habitat volunteers, the foundation built the 884-square-foot house for about $60,000. The foundation already had most of the cash it needed to purchase the building materials, and completed the project without relying on grants or major fund raising.
“We were able to do something that was very affordable and is very needed,” said Evergreen.
A stroke of good fortune made it possible for the two organizations to find a property to serve a dual purpose. The South Street lots had been vacant and for sale for many years, according to Evergreen, so long, in fact, that the “for sale” signs had fallen down.
The woman who had inherited the property agreed to sell the parcels to the foundation for a reasonable price, he said, and the foundation sold half of the tract to Habitat for its second construction project, offering an ideal location for its newest approved applicant.
The von Hemert House was built on approximately one-third of an acre, and contains two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, laundry room and bathroom on a quiet residential side street in town.
The transitional home is geared to those who may have lost their own home to fire, or have been involved in an automobile accident and can’t navigate within their own homes.
Completely handicapped accessible, persons who are disabled by accidents, surgery or age-related illnesses, can experience easy access and maneuverability in the residence.
Those who take advantage of the benefit offered by the Housing Foundation, though, must have a sponsor and a plan in place. Sponsors could include a church, a member of the community, insurance agent, nurse or physical therapist.
“Someone we can count on to help,” said Evergreen. “We’re not a social service agency. We want someone to help them meet their goals.”
Ideally, said Evergreen, someone who has been affected by unusual circumstances could live in the von Hemert House for up to three months, while they take strides to get back on their feet. If additional time is needed, it is possible that their stay could be extended.
“It’s not just for people who don’t have money,” said Evergreen. “We want it to serve the community.”
The rental fee charged by the foundation to live in the transitional emergency shelter house is based on income, but no one will be turned away if it is determined that they can’t afford the fee, according to Evergreen.
The Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation is hoping to build a similar facility in Fluvanna County.
“That’s next on our list. We’re waiting for the stars to line up so that we can,” said Evergreen. “It’s not fair that the city of Charlottesville is the only place [to have emergency shelters]. People shouldn’t have to leave their community.”
Numerous supporters of the joint project were on hand to dedicate the two houses, including foundation and Habitat staff, volunteers, local religious leaders and community residents. Members of the late John von Hemert’s family, his wife, Toby, and son, Tom, also shared in the ceremony.
Remarks for the von Hemert dedication were made by Sherry Hardwick Thomas, rector of St. James Episcopal church, Ron Lauziere, president of the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation, Tom von Hemert, and Patty Driskill, who shared her memories of the man for whom the transitional shelter is named.
A former rector of St. James Episcopal, John von Hemert was a community-minded person, said Driskill, and his savvy in dealing with business or financial affairs gave many a dream impetus to grow from a plan to an active organization.
“Wherever any of us met John, on the sidewalk, at the post office, in a business, hospital or church, John’s greeting had such warmth and energy that you had to think that his number one, first priority for that day was well, out of all the entire population of Louisa County, he most wanted to say hello to you,” she said. “That spirit never wavered. It was a blessing of life you could count on.”
His name didn’t always appear at the top as the person in charge of a project. Instead, von Hemert was typically listed at the bottom, she said, where the seeds were planted and foundations forged.
“John was a dreamer. His dreams were not the idle daydreams that vaporize with the morning mist,” said Driskill. “John’s dreams were rooted in reality, for he understood people and the needs of this community.”
According to Driskill, von Hemert knew how to design a project, how he might best serve on the project and who could most successfully be “enticed, cajoled, coaxed, or plain wheedled into working with him.”
Involved in many organizations during his lifetime, von Hemert was active on the ground floor of the Louisa County Housing Foundation, JAUNT, Medical Outreach Service, Santa Council, the Louisa Ministerial Association and Food Pantry.
“All of John’s community involvement was supported by his personal generosity with time, talent and treasure—qualities that have been, and continue to be, mirrored by his devoted wife, Toby, and their family,” said Driskill. “I join you in saying, ‘Thanks be to God for John, for these homes and for the addition they make to our community.”
During the dedication of the Johnson home remarks were made by Rev. Frances Lewis; Jim Wolf, chairman of the LCHFH; Johnson; Virginia Gorski, family advocate; Donna Stewart, project manager; and Fred Richardson and Tom Rayburn, volunteers with Habitat.



The Project Manager’s Perspective

By Deana Meredith
The Central Virginian
May 27, 2004

When the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation and Louisa County Habitat for Humanity entered into a joint partnership, with plans to build two homes side-by-side, they decided it was time to hire a project manager to oversee the day-to-day operations and hired Donna Stewart.
Stewart was recommended for the job by Mary Kranz, a local builder who has been involved with Louisa Habitat since its formation. It was agreed that Howard Evergreen, housing foundation director would serve as back-up supervisor for the dual project.
“She had been trying to get me involved with Habitat. On this house, she really wanted to hire a construction manager,” said Stewart, “one who has the bigger picture makes things go a lot smoother. Then Howard came up with the idea of doing two houses together, which made it more doable for both agencies, and myself.”
Overcoming weather-related delays was one of the major hurdles which Stewart and volunteers had to work through during construction.
“The weather was very much of a challenge for us,” said Stewart. “We had a lot of rain, and because the sites are so sloped, even getting the lots cleared was delay after delay.”
After obtaining the necessary permits from the county, work simultaneously began on the foundations and basement walls of the von Hemert and Johnson houses. However, it wasn’t long before Hurricane Isabel roared through Central Virginia, holding up progress more.
“I have to say, being in it on a week-to-week basis, it seemed we had lots of weather problems,” recalled Stewart. “Then . . . from early September to early March we built two houses with [purely] volunteer labor.”
Everything fell into place once the construction process took off with a vengeance. Just when Stewart began to feel unsure about how a certain aspect of the project would commence, volunteers with the appropriate job skills would show up and lend a hand through completion.
“That kind of thing happened again and again,” she said. “It really did feel like a lot of little miracles.”
In retrospect, Stewart is surprised that everything came together so well for both houses.
“It’s not a simple task to do an intensive project such as this, especially in a rural area,” she said. “When I stop and look back, it is a big Wow!”
Working with Johnson was a pleasure, said Stewart, who describes the newest beneficiary of a Louisa Habitat home as easygoing.
“She’s a hard worker. Belinda had all her [sweat equity] hours done before we started working on her house,” said Stewart. “I was so happy to build a house for her and that she was getting it.”
Stewart considers the von Hemert home a tremendous asset, offering shelter for persons in Louisa County.
A home for Tracy Shifflett, Teresa Smith and their three children, located on a four-acre parcel donated by Historic Green Springs Inc. in the Trevilians Battlefield Station area, is Stewart’s next project.
“I just feel that Habitat is really good for the community,” said Stewart. “It’s a great way for people of all walks of life to come together. It’s doing a great service in an area where affordable housing is crucial.”



Forging Partnerships

Editorial from The Central Virginian
May 27, 2004

Forging partnerships accomplishes so much, something that was evident this past weekend at the dedication of both the John von Hemert House and second Habitat for Humanity house in the town of Louisa.
The Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation and Louisa County Habitat for Humanity joined forces over a year ago. Leaning upon each other, the two organizations have achieved admirable results.
On Sunday afternoon, in the humid afternoon sun, a crowd of supporters stood on two straw-strewn lawns on South Street to celebrate the dedications.
The simple and functional Habitat house, built for the family of Belinda Johnson, meets all of her needs—from size and amenities, to proximity to her employment. Since she doesn’t drive, it was important for her to be within walking distance.
Those involved in the Habitat project expressed mutual respect for Johnson’s willingness to work toward her dream. Even though she had already acquired all the “sweat equity hours” required of her before crews could begin constructing her own home, Johnson didn’t quit. In fact, she spent just as much time as she possibly could checking out what was to become her new home.
One remarkable, determined young woman, she was able to realize her dream and is graciously giving back to the community which gave her a chance for a new home, just so that others can be as happy as she is.
The foundation’s surprise discovery of property for their own project to build a transitional emergency shelter for community residents served a dual purpose when it offered to sell a portion of the parcel to Habitat.
The von Hemert House is another success story, and puts Louisa County on the map as possibly the first such emergency shelter in rural Virginia. Now, the foundation’s director is hoping that Fluvanna County will reap the same benefits.
It is truly fitting that a temporary shelter for those in need in Louisa County should be named after John von Hemert. Those who knew him attest to his kindness and his ability to get the job done—whatever it was.
Looking out for the people in the community was his number one mission.




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