My third day as an AmeriCorps with Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, I met Linsey, a woman who works at the downtown ReStore. I was helping the staff unload a truck full of new donations and had picked up a box overflowed with large picture frames and artwork. I slowly walked the box into the donation room and set it on the ground.
“Now, honey,” Linsey said. She came to stand beside me. “Don’t ever pick up a box like that again.”
“I’m stronger than I look!” I said.
She shook her head. “Well, I am too,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t hurt yourself.”
I took a liking to Linsey almost immediately; she is the kind of person who loves without expecting anything in return. She works as a pricer, meaning she sorts through donations at the ReStore and assigns them a price before they are put out on the floor. I stood with her at the pricing station while she printed labels for me to stick to the bottom of ceramic dishware and household trinkets. Before working here, Linsey was the executive director of the Habitat affiliate in Branson, Missouri, served in the Peace Corps, worked as a hospital chaplain, and raised a family, among other things.
While stickering small items, we made quiet conversation. She had come to Wilmington from Colorado because one morning, when she woke up in the mountains, she realized how badly she wanted to hear ocean gulls. I came to Wilmington from the Chicago suburbs, and she laughed when I named the city.
“Lake Michigan is huge,” she said. “The first time I saw it, I thought it was an ocean.”
She asked if I liked Wilmington, if I liked the MFA program, and how I had come to work for Habitat. I shared my history with the Appalachia Service Project, a non-profit home repair ministry in central Appalachia. She nodded, listened as I explained the similarities between the non-profits, then put down the item in her hands and looked at me.
“People are going to tell you that Habitat gives away homes,” she said. She raised her eyebrows matter-of-factly. “We don’t give away homes.”
Through Habitat’s program, homeowners will pay closing costs on the home, they’ll work on their home and their neighbor’s home, and they’ll be responsible for their mortgage. Habitat provides the opportunity for homeowners to do what the word claims – to own a home.
Think about all the times you use the word “home” throughout the day. After work, you go home. To talk to a parent on the phone, you call home. When planning to cook with a friend or have someone over for a movie, you invite them to your home. Think about how your conversations would change if you couldn’t use the word “home” because you didn’t have a home to reference.
I have two definitions for home – home as a physical place and home as a state of being. Both definitions involve home providing a sense of safety; both definitions aid Habitat’s mission of working towards a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
Linsey described home as a combination of both definitions. Home is the place she walks into at the end of the day and exhales. Home is a place to build courage, to accumulate love in a tangible way.
“My home gives me courage,” Linsey said. “It gives me courage to go out into the world because I know when I return, I can exhale. I can recharge.”
I spent a Monday evening in late August at Linsey’s home. A historic home with a yellow kitchen, walls lined with stuffed bookshelves, handstitched artwork, and photos of loved ones – it is a space controlled by Linsey, a space that holds, what feels like, a tangible love.
“It must be harrowing to not have that,” Linsey said. “It must be harrowing to not have a home that feels like love.”
Linsey volunteered with Habitat before becoming a staff member. I worked alongside a drywall contractor at a new build before becoming a Habitat AmeriCorps member. There are several ways to be involved with the Cape Fear Habitat community, to help bring people home.
You can volunteer alongside a family to build a home, to spend your day painting a child’s new bedroom or digging holes for a front porch, among other things. You can volunteer at one of our three ReStores: the downtown location, the Market Street location, or, our newest, the Monkey Junction location. While we are still in the pandemic-induced world, you can also volunteer virtually as an advocate for affordable housing by contributing to the Cost of Home campaign.
Habitat for Humanity is a housing ministry – a tapestry of people and their stories. It brings people together to build homes where love can live, to build homes so people can become homeowners, to build homes for people to walk into at the end of a long day, a good day, any kind of day, and exhale.
Habitat is about community building, and we hope to see you in our community soon.