Being Direct about Homeownership with Sumter Habitat's Executive Director, Theresa White
Q: Theresa, tell us a little bit more about yourself, your role with Sumter Habitat, and the most rewarding part about your job.
A: I moved to Sumter from Lorain, Ohio, in 2007. I am a mother of 3 wonderful children. I started with SHFH in November 2011 as the bookkeeper. I handled accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, and homeowner mortgage payments. I eventually began assisting with the volunteer component of the organization. At the time, there was only one other employee in administration, the executive director.
In 2015, the affiliate was in a position to hire a new director. After conversations with a couple of friends that I admire tremendously, they convinced me that I could either be the next director or train the next director, so I applied for the position. I began my role as the executive
director on April 30, 2015, the only employee in the administration office. Fortunately, a year later, we were able to add two part-time employees to alleviate some of the workload.
The most rewarding part of my job is assisting deserving families to become homeowners. From the time they enter our homeownership program, we become family. I do my best to ensure they are ready to be successful homeowners once they sign their mortgage documents. It is always a happy day when we have the family's home dedication and blessing.
Q: In what aspect did 2020 and the present pandemic change the behavior of donors, as well as those whom Habitat serves?
A: The pandemic has created a few challenges for Sumter Habitat and our mission. We were working from home for several weeks, the ReStore was closed, and the employees were home working on training sessions online. Construction was suddenly halted, volunteers were not permitted on the worksite for their safety, and the family for the home wondered when they could get back to work to finish the house and the cost of materials to top it all off. We were fortunate enough that by the time the material prices increased dramatically, we were beyond most of the high costs we incur.
Q: During your tenure as ED, you have seen eight homes built from start to finish. Of those eight homes, I believe you said one sponsor funded 38%. First, WHO can sponsor the build of a Habitat Home?
A: During my tenure as ED, there have been eight homes built from start to finish. Of those eight homes, three have been fully funded by three different funding sponsors.
Anyone can sponsor a home build. The sponsors are corporations, churches, foundations, individuals, really anyone with the funds to do so. We never start a build without first having the funds in the bank, and we never want to put a build on hold because of financial issues. We prefer to have the funds before we start building to ensure we will complete the build.
Q: Are there any other sponsorship options or scenarios for those who cannot invest the $90,000+ that it takes for a complete build?
A: If a full sponsorship cannot be obtained, we apply smaller amounts of funds that are derived from grants, memorials, planned giving, recycled mortgage payments, and other sources to meet the requirements.
Another avenue is for a group of like businesses, say manufacturers here in Sumter, to come together and donate smaller amounts to achieve the necessary goal. Sometimes it is easier for ten companies to donate $10,000 each than for 1 to donate $100,000.
Q: When planning a home build, is securing the monetary component (and figuring out what the build cost will be) the first and most important step?
A: Yes and no. So, we want to secure the monetary component. The first thing we look at is what is our budget. This is based on the size of the house we will build, whether it is a 3 or 4 bedroom and where this house will be built. We then look at ensuring we have the funds locked in place before we begin. We usually have the funds for a build at least a year in advance to ensure we can continue to assist the families.
Q: Sumter Habitat is currently partnering with Alice Drive Baptist Church in building a home for Ms. LaKesha Jones at 1245 Habitat Drive. Can you give us a background on this particular home build and how things transpired?
A: For this build with ADBC, Todd Fleming reached out to me asking how much it would cost to build a house if his church wanted to invest in building a Habitat home. I explained that it typically costs between $75-80,000, allowing the family to choose slightly higher-end fixtures, cabinetry, countertops, and flooring. We are trying to get away from the cheapest, most basic. Todd responded with an email that he prayed that ADBC could be a part of our wonderful ministry in the future.
A couple of weeks later, Hunter Dominy, Missions Minister with ADBC called me, and we discussed the ins and outs of our program, the families we assist, the build process, and whatnot. He then discussed the possibility of coordinating congregational volunteers to come out once a week to build the home they hoped to sponsor. This is a rare occurrence.
February 2, 2021, I received an email from Cecilia Newman, Next Steps & Missions Director, Hunter Dominy had left ADBC, and asked for an opportunity to meet with us to learn more about Habitat for Humanity and how the church could help.
On April 29, we had a memorandum of partnership in hand, and by August 6, the full amount for the build was received. This particular build was fast-tracked as the congregation will be volunteering their time to build at least one day a week.
Q: Has there been anything unique or special about this particular build? Both the Partnership with Alice Drive Baptist Church and our future homeowner, Ms. Jones?
A: The unique thing about this build is that ADBC is providing the funds and the labor to build this house into a home for the homebuyer Miss Jones. This is a first during my tenure as ED, although I think it has been done here in Sumter before. As for Miss Jones, her continued efforts to purchase affordable housing is amazing. While she had applied with Sumter Habitat on just this one occasion, she applied at another affiliate on a couple of other occasions.
Q: What would you say to those who want to give back to their community or read this and want to help?
A: If you want to give back to the community, jump in. Figure out what you are passionate about, affordable housing, feeding the hungry, providing for the homeless. There are plenty of non-profit organizations in Sumter that need funding and volunteers.
Many volunteers that come out to the worksite to help build a home say they don't know what to do or how to do construction, and that is okay. You need a willing heart and the desire to learn so you can make a difference.
Q: In closing, is there anything you would like to add or anyone you would like to thank?
A: Thank you to all our donors. Whether it's $5, $500, or $50,000, it all makes a difference in this community. Thank you to all our volunteers. Without you, we would not be able to continue to build affordable housing. Thank you to the Sumter Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors that guide our organization in a forward direction to continue our mission. Thank you to all Habitat staff who keep us going daily, both in administration and our ReStore.