Habitat for Humanity: Background information when reading How to Build a Heart

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How to Build a Heart

by Maria Padian

How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian X
How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 352 pages
    Feb 2021, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

Habitat for Humanity

This article relates to How to Build a Heart

Print Review

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter working on a Habitat for Humanity house In Maria Padian's How to Build a Heart, the narrator and her family are offered the opportunity to own a brand-new home thanks to Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller while they were living on a communal farm in Americus, Georgia. They understood that decent housing is probably a family's single largest expense, and that rental properties may not meet the needs of all families, especially those with multiple children. Part of the American Dream is homeownership, a dream that is usually far beyond reality for providers working for minimum wage. The Fullers envisioned a program through which prospective homeowners would work alongside volunteers, both skilled and amateur, to construct a house. The entire project would be affordable and non-profit. The Fullers' idea became what we know today as Habitat for Humanity.

Besides constructing new homes, the organization also helps with renovation projects for existing homes, and the building of temporary shelters in areas affected by disasters. In addition, Habitat for Humanity operates ReStores, which collect and sell the various things a home's new occupants might need—furniture, appliances and other items—again, for no profit. Nominally Christian, the organization does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion or background when choosing housing recipients or accepting volunteers. Habitat for Humanity now operates in all 50 states and in 70 countries abroad. Over 29 million people have benefited from the organization's work. An offshoot called Veterans Build helps with housing issues faced by American veterans.

The down payment for a Habitat for Humanity home is minimal, far less than a bank would require. There is a mortgage, but payments are designed to be affordable. The unique aspect of a Habitat for Humanity home project is "sweat equity," various non-monetary ways the prospective homeowners can pitch in so that they're effectively earning their house. They can help by working in a ReStore, cleaning and preparing the building site, or with the construction of their own home or one being built for another recipient. Because a home may be the largest investment a family ever makes, new homeowners take classes on managing finances, completion of which counts towards their "sweat equity." Children too young to help at a building site can sometimes "earn" equity by getting good grades in school.

Undoubtedly the most famous volunteers for Habitat for Humanity are former president Jimmy Carter, now 95 years old, and his wife Rosalynn. They have been actively working with the organization since the 1980s and even have their own offshoot, the Jimmy and Rosalynn Work Project, a construction "blitz" that takes place in the United States and abroad in alternating years.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at work in 2019, courtesy of Habitat for Humanity

Filed under Society and Politics

This "beyond the book article" relates to How to Build a Heart. It originally ran in February 2020 and has been updated for the February 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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