Monday, March 15, 2010

Team Clark and Atlanta Habitat

Down in the depths of the city of Atlanta, on Pryor Street in a community named Polar Rock, there is a rebirth taking place. Boarded up houses and vacant lots are being replaced by classically cute bungalows with front porches, and struggling families show their earnestness through dedication and sweat equity.

Saturday, 3 friends and I met a future Habitat homeowner - Joy - as we volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. It was my first time, and it was fantastic. My friend and neighbor Rachael had volunteered last year, and raved about meeting Clark. She signed us up, and we were set to go. Habitat alone is a great thing - but we were on Team Clark, and Clark Howard can make a great thing even greater! King of consumer advocacy, frugality and deal-mongering - oh, Clark, my heart pitter-patters! I was speechless in his presence, and could only think of SNL's Wayne & Garth "We're not worthy... we're not worthy!"

We were divided up into groups of 40 volunteers per house, and 5 houses were to be completed that day. So it was a day of final touches, which meant turning a mud-puddle-ridden construction site into a landscaped lawn. Did I mention there had been torrential rains the day before, so the red GA mud was thick and mucky in spots, and wet and slippery in spots? I was on the landscape crew, and you will chuckle to know that I was among a small few that knew something about planting. My meager experience stood me in good stead, but thankfully we had 2 volunteer Master Gardeners to oversee the whole yard, and the creation of the front beds. Boxwoods, holly bushes, maple trees, pansies and dusty miller - aha! I know those last two! Each home is typically allotted $140 for plants - which would mean our planting efforts would take, oh, 10 minutes, and not go too far. But on that day, Habitat had received a number of plant donations, so we had plenty to make a difference.

Digging holes for bushes, planting flowers and passing sod down a line of people were my tasks for the day. My recent gym attendance (and years of baby-juggling?) came in handy, as I raked mud and toted rolls of heavy, soggy sod. Would you believe it was fun and relaxing? There was something about the camaraderie of adults with a mission, and the {quiet} companionship of mud and flowers.
I came home filthy and tired but excited, and ready to sign up again. I had the pleasure of eating lunch with Adrian: a long-time volunteer and Habitat Board member, who had a simple view: we need look no further than our own neighborhoods to see a need, and decide to make a difference. She commiserated with the situation in Haiti, but encouraged those of us who cannot volunteer out of the country to become more locally aware.
I told her that if I were a future Habitat homeowner, gazing out at nearly 200 people that showed up to help out in some small way, I might spend the day crying in gratitude. Adrian agreed that the first few days were like that, but that by the final day the homeowners were grateful yet jubilant. Having traveled the long road of Habitat-ownership criteria, the finished home is but one marker on the path. I was impressed to know that each future homeowner puts in 250 hours of Habitat sweat equity, a year of financial counseling, and a year of renting the home with no late payments - and then, and only then, are they granted a chance at being a homeowner.

Joy and her 4 year-old son Josiah were sweet faces to look on, and I like to imagine them soon settling into their stylish bungalow, on a street rising from the ashes.
(Oh, and Clark Howard is just as kind & friendly in person as he is on the radio...)


  1. WOW! Fabulous work, B! An all-around enriching experience.
    As a side note, I once saw Clark at Costco and was surprised by how large a tush he had?! Who knew? (Mind you, I am pro-tush!)

  2. lucky duck! --getting to meet a famous person. ;).
    AND getting to work on a cute bungalow house...
    I just love cute bungalow houses.
    That is soooo cool! :)
    Great read, too.


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