June 24, 2020
By Jay Powell of the Columbia Daily Herald
Habitat for Humanity Williamson-Maury (HFHWM) dedicated its first completed build since the COVID-19 pandemic began, providing a new home and start to one lucky Columbia family.
Many Habitat staff members, volunteers and locals, most wearing protective masks, gathered Saturday morning in front of the completed Spring Thrivent Home on School Street. The build was made possible in partnership with Thrivent Financial, who awarded $70,000 to fund the house’s construction. Thrivent has been a partner with Habitat since 2005, with its members contributing more than $240 million, along with over 5.5 million volunteer hours across the U.S. and globally.
This year’s Thrivent Home was dedicated to the family of LaTosha Sparkman and her two children Alayshia (19) and A’Ddonnious (17), who qualified through HFHWM’s Homeownership Program. Sparkman, who works full-time at Currie Medical Supplies, said she had previously been declined three times, but that her faith and persistence with the program has allowed her family to “live the dream” of owning a home.
“Habitat opens up doors for those that thought they would never have anything. I never thought in a million years that I would be out of public housing,” Sparkman said. “Habitat has great people working with you, and they make you feel welcome. I know I couldn’t do this without them and my sponsors. Words can’t express how I feel. I am truly grateful.”
An avid cook, Sparkman also received a $250 gift card donated by Kroger.
She said becoming a homeowner will make life better not just for herself, but also her children. Alayshia is currently enrolled at Columbia State Community College studying to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). A’Donnious, a Centennial High School student, has ambitions to attend barber school and to one day own his own business.
“I thank God for my kids, because this isn’t for me. It’s for them,” Sparkman said. “They’re everything to me, and I thank you. This is a blessing.”
HFHWM Chief Development Officer Kim Randell said the build wasn’t that of a typical Habitat project, where dozens, if not hundreds of volunteers and local businesses come together to raise the house over a few days.
Since COVID-19 put a halt to mass gatherings, construction was able to be completed through several local church sponsorships, including St. Peters Episcopal Church, Harpeth Presbyterian Church, Columbia First United Methodist Church, Holy Family Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church of Franklin and Christ United Methodist Church. “It was really different this year because we didn’t have volunteer build days. Normally when we have our sponsors, families and volunteers, it creates a unified front. People get to know each other and grow close, and lots of times relationships go beyond the build and they become friends making baby blankets for one another,” Randell said. “This was a different situation, and I feel a little sad about that, but know that all of this community supports [The Sparkman Family].”
HFHWM Chief Operations Officer Wayne Weaver added that the program “is not an easy one” to get into, and according to statistics, nine out of 10 families who apply are typically denied, most of the time due to credit issues. The Homeownership Program is also not about “giving away” houses, but building homes that are later purchased using affordable mortgage rates. Qualifying families must also complete at least 200 hundred hours of educational training and “sweat equity” before they can purchase the home.
“We don’t give houses away, we sell houses,” Weaver said. “We have mortgage underwriting guidelines just like any other mortgage lender. So on top of us being a mortgage lender, we’re also a builder and a Christian nonprofit organization.”
Families that are denied are not simply told “no,” but are advised on ways they can reapply, changes that need to be made and what will allow them a greater chance of becoming a Habitat family.
“Those that take the advice, they wind up here today,” Weaver said. “So congratulations, LaTosha.”
For more information about HFHWM, visit the organization’s website at www.hfhwm.org.