A home made of hard work

When Brenda Jenkins walked into her own home for the first time, she went through every room and thanked God. She lay on the floor between her living room and dining room to soak up the moment.

“It was a dream I just thought would never happen,” Jenkins said.

The 47-year-old account specialist and single parent has two daughters, ages 18 and 11. She applied for a home through Habitat for Humanity, she said, because she wanted to create a better life for them. She lived near USF off 22nd Street and 38th Avenue in a duplex prior to moving into her home in Grant Park, Tampa.

On Saturday, Jenkins and a group of about 50 people — consisting of Habitat staff, homeowners and volunteers (including a few USF students) — welcomed five new families into Habitat homes. Habitat “dedicates” each house with a small ceremony. The homeowners are given flowers (for beauty), candles (to light the home), bread (for food), a Bible and, of course, a key to their home. Jenkins came to the ceremony wearing a T-shirt and a contagious smile that seemed to radiate from somewhere deep inside.

Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County has built about 100 homes in the Grant Park area since its inception in 1987. Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization that promotes the building of adequate and affordable housing for those who need it.

Habitat for Humanity International operates in 83 countries.

In the United States, 6,000 to 7,000 people are homeless each night, according to The Ultimate Field Guide to the U.S. Economy.

In Grant Park, Tampa, a cluster of about 30 Habitat homes sit together in a small community. Some of the children play with a mini-football in a small field before and after the ceremony. The group shares Publix donuts, juice and coffee before the dedication.

Shurla Roland, head of family selection and services for Habitat in Hillsborough, said that in Hillsborough County, they received about 400 to 500 phone calls about applying for Habitat homes in the last year.

Roland said families are selected according to their ability to pay their monthly mortgage, what conditions the family lives in and their willingness to partner with Habitat.

“We take families of all faiths and no faith,” Roland said.

Once chosen, they must perform 500 “sweat hours” to earn their house. Sweat hours are volunteer hours put into building Habitat houses. They also pay closing costs and a 20-year, interest-free mortgage for their home.

“Most of the families that we get are not afraid of hard work,” Roland said.

Before a house is built, it needs sponsorship. Publix, MetLife, Home Depot and Capital One, are a few of the companies that have sponsored houses in the past. A four-bedroom house costs Habitat for Humanity about $50,000 and takes about 16 weeks to build, Roland said.

Paul Smith, volunteer coordinator for Habitat, estimates that about 2,500 volunteer hours go into each house. Volunteers build 85 percent of each house. However, professionals do the electricity and plumbing, Smith said.

Linda Connell, 32, has four children. She said she thinks she has completed about 350 to 400 of her sweat hours. The completion of her house is about two to four months away, she said.

Connell said she doesn’t think her kids believed they were really getting a house at first.

She shows her house in progress with pride. She gives a grand tour of rooms that are empty, except for paint fumes, a stereo and a fan.

But Connell already has a vision for her house. She knows which of her kids will be in which rooms. Her oldest daughters, 13 and 14, will share the largest room. She’ll take the smaller front room. She shows where her washer and dryer will be. She paints concrete and plaster into her home with her description.

“Picking which two children will have to share a room is exciting,” after having to fit herself and the four of them into two bedrooms in her mother’s house, she said.

Connell said she looks forward to being able to wash dishes and look out the front window of her home.

As for Jenkins, she said she likes the location because it’s close to her church, which she attends every Sunday. She sings in the choir. Her favorite song is “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.” On her answering machine she wishes each caller a blessed day.

Jenkins said she likes the fact that her daughter can play ball or ride her bike near her home without any problems.

“When I come home, I just feel like I’ve been there for years,” Jenkins said.For more information about Hillsborough Habitat for Humanity go to

Contact Kristan Brightat oraclefeatures@yahoo.com