Walton County Habitat for Humanity dedicates 25th home to one of its own

Jennie McKeon

Single mother Teresa Schultz said she never believed she would one day own a home.

Her previous address was a two-bedroom single wide trailer built in the 1970s. The quarters were cramped between Schultz, her 21-month old and her 13-year-old son who stays with her during the weekends.

Schultz was always aware of the Habitat for Humanity program, but never thought she would qualify. In fact, she dedicated 64 hours, from December 2011 to June 2012, to help build a friend's home through the program. It was during that time period, a fellow volunteer told her to apply.

Now, she's the proud owner of a brand new, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house and unlike some other homeowners, Schultz has the unique pleasure in knowing that she helped build her house with her own two hands.

"It's something to be proud of," she said. "It makes you want to take better care of the house."

The Walton County Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1996. It is a chapter of Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI), a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. The local chapter covers the entire county including DeFuniak Springs, Freeport, Paxton, Santa Rosa Beach and Point Washington. Habitat has built about 200,000 houses around the world, providing almost 1 million people in more than 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter. Including Schultz's new home, the local Habitat has dedicated 25 houses in the area.

Between building her friend's home, and most recently her own, Schultz has learned firsthand the hard work that goes into building a house from the ground up.

"Some days I was cutting wood, some days I was hammering nails, some days I was clearing the brush," she said.

In the beginning, it was hard for Schultz to visualize her home. With each day, she said she saw her dreams coming to life.

Her children were a part of the effort as well. Her son helped over the course of a few weekends, and her young daughter was at volunteers' side throughout the whole process.

"She was our little mascot," Schultz said.

Schultz said she wants her children to learn from being a part of this life changing process.

"I want them to understand the value of helping other people," she said. "I want them to give back to the community in a meaningful way."

While the labor was free, Habitat for Humanity still needs funds for building materials. Generous individuals and organizations in the community play an integral part in helping people like Schultz realize their home-owning dreams. Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation donated $63,000 to the Walton County Habitat for Humanity to build Schultz's home. To have the community step up with time and money was amazing, Schultz said.

"There's just no other way to put it," she said. "I've been involved with charity work to support local baseball or cheerleader teams, but nothing of this magnitude."

Inspired by volunteers at Habitat, Schultz is paying it forward and is already planning on working on another home. She'd also like to help future Habitat homeowners by being a point of contact for any questions they may have about the process. Supporting the organization is definitely worthwhile, Schultz said.

The proud homeowner said she has all sorts of future plans for her house. When she's not volunteering for Habitat, you might find her landscaping her yard or working on a backyard porch.  No matter how the house may change over the years, she'll never forget its humble beginnings.

"It opens your eyes," Schultz said, "It really does take a village. The staff and volunteers have become an extension of my family. Without Habitat this dream would've never come to fruition."