PENDER COUNTY, N.C. — Hurricane Florence left Cynthia Henry with almost nothing after water damage inside her home made it unsafe to live in. If the four feet of water didn’t initially ruin her possessions, the mold that soon followed did. It began to feel like a losing battle and she was unsure how she would ever begin to start over.

“I didn’t know where I was going to go,” says Henry. “I didn’t know what to do. I literally felt homeless actually. Habitat came in my life and they saw it just wasn’t worth fixing. They were the ones that were determined I was going to have a home.”

Determined to stay in the same neighborhood, she and the team at Habitat for Humanity came up with a new disaster relief housing option – the efficiency cottage. The 800 square foot home is just enough for Henry to live in and it’s built from materials that will withstand future storms and keep energy costs low.

This brand new home has been two years in coming, but as Henry began moving her belongings into it, she said it was all worth the wait. The volunteers with Habitat that have been building her house for the past four months have become like family to her and they say she’s touched their lives as well.

“Meeting Ms. Henry has been one of the most joyous parts of my time at Habitat,” says Lauren McKenzie, the operations director for Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity. “She has such a pure heart and is so thankful for everything that we do, but the real joy that we get is we’re not only the ones giving the gift, we get the gift back from the homeowner.”

The recovery from Hurricane Florence has felt a bit like a tunnel at times, but Henry can finally see the light at the end of it and she says for the first time in years, she’ll be warm in the winter and can sleep easy knowing her home is safe.

“It was probably 1986 I had a brand new home and this, oh my gosh, it’s like it chokes me up in tears, I just can’t believe it still, it’s so surreal,” said Henry.

Her new home is just the first of several efficiency cottages that will be completed for families whose homes were damaged beyond repair in Hurricane Florence