Peace of Mind in Clay County
When you pull off Highway 64 in Clay County, you enter a world a little more old-fashioned than the one you left. Winding roads take you past an old auto station that still boasts an original Sinclair Oil sign, the green dinosaur bright and recognizable as ever. The people give directions using phrases like “It’s just up on the ridge” and “We live on the other side of the mountain,” referring to folks who didn’t grow up around there as “outsiders.” And a tiny community gathers to support one of their own, a woman born and raised on that mountain, as she finally has a secure, strong, and reliable house in the county she has always called “home.”
Lisa Loftis still seemed a little shell-shocked by her good fortune on the day of her Habitat home dedication. “I never in a million years thought I’d have something this nice,” she whispered as friends and local community members arrived for the ceremony. Her grandson, Michael, who lives with her, was equally giddy about his new home. When guests congratulated him, the quiet 8-year-old smiled sheepishly but broadly and looked up at his grandmother, whose side he rarely left. Michael will have his own room in this house and a playroom in the basement. But the thing he was proudest of? The second-hand Dyson hand-held vacuum cleaner that once belonged to a family friend. The friend saw how much Michael loved the little Dyson and decided to let him have it. Excited to show off his new gadget, he was sure to bring it out of his bedroom closet each time he gave a new person a tour of the house.
The little family is moving from a run-down, rented mobile home into a beautiful, solid house in a neighborhood that was originally built via a USDA program to provide housing for income-qualified families in the county. As the economy changed and some residents moved out, the home that would become Lisa’s stood empty and fell into disrepair. Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina (Habitat NC) bought the house at auction, and Habitat NC Board President, Dick Forbis, made it his passion project, making the long trek from the Triangle to Clay County and spending days at a time painting, doing repairs, and preparing the house for its new owners, with help from Lisa and a few volunteers.
Lisa and Michael’s home is part of the SECU Foundation’s Mountains-to-the-Sea Challenge, a $10 million partnership with Habitat NC to build or renovate a home in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Once the homeowner assumes a zero-percent interest loan from SECU, the money is returned to the Habitat affiliate so that another home can be built. The $10 million initiative is funded by the $1 per month maintenance fee that each SECU member pays. Not all of North Carolina’s 100 counties are served by a Habitat affiliate, however. Many of the unserved counties were taken on by Habitat NC, the state support organization (SSO) for NC affiliates, and the Loftis house is one of sixteen built by the SSO.
The feeling that life will be different—better—for these two members of their community fills the house along with the guests who have come to pray and dedicate it to Lisa and Michael. As Lisa hugs Michael to herself during the ceremony, she quietly wipes away tears of gratitude, relief, and hope. Michael will grow up secure and safe, and the worry that Lisa has grown accustomed to lifts, just a little. This home is a blessing, and the Loftis family knows it. One neighbor assures Dick that Lisa will take wonderful care of the home because “She keeps a good house.” One needn’t worry that the responsibility for house upkeep rests with Lisa alone, however: little Michael has already claimed vacuuming responsibilities for himself and his Dyson.
Sara Thompson, Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina