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Six years ago, Chad and Leeanne Ery accepted help from Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity when they purchased their home, the nineteenth house built in Habitat's Brendan Woods neighborhood in Bluffton.
A hard worker who has done landscaping and now is employed by Hargray, Chad Ery felt homeownership was an important investment for his family's future. He applied, qualified and was accepted into the Habitat program. His house was funded and built by donations of time and money by the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Association of Realtors.
"Words really can't describe the sense of accomplishment we had at being able to own our own home," Chad Ery said.
Wanting to give another deserving family the same opportunity, the Erys decided to give their home back to Habitat for Humanity when they were able to purchase a bigger house in the New River area.
"The Erys' decision to deed their house back to Habitat is an example of the Habitat philosophy working at its best," said Patricia Carey Wirth, executive director of Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity.
"Habitat believes in offering people a hand up, not a hand-out. The Erys took that hand, worked hard, and now are offering to help another family in need," Wirth said, adding, "The only thing that's 'given' at Habitat is an opportunity."
Homes built with generosity and hard work
When the Erys moved into their house, the Brendan Woods neighborhood was about one third complete. Their daughter Scarlett (now 5) was the first baby to be born to Brendan Woods residents -- joining big sister Rahne and older brother River. Today, the neighborhood is complete -- 61 homes sit on land donated by local real estate developer Michael Maloney, in memory of his son Brendan.
Wirth said that since opening its doors in 1990, Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity has been successful thanks to generous land donations, the commitment of town governments from Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, as well as officials in Beaufort and Jasper counties. She said the non-profit organization wouldn't have succeeded without the thousands of local residents who have worked together to hammer, paint, landscape and write checks to help eliminate sub-standard housing in the Lowcountry.
Lowcountry Habitat for Humanity based in Beaufort serves families living north of the Broad River. Recently the organization donated its thirtieth home.
How Habitat works
The nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry seeks to eliminate substandard housing and homelessness and break the cycle of poverty fostered by inadequate housing.
The organization builds simple, decent houses and sells them (without earning any profit) to approved buyers, who then make monthly payments on no-interest home mortgages. Those payments are put into a revolving fund, which is used to build more houses. To date, the local Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity organization has built 80 houses.
Home purchasers also are required to attend classes on topics related to home ownership. They participate in community service, and help build their neighbors' homes as well as their own. Habitat owners must own their houses for three years before they are allowed to sell.
Building close-knit neighborhoods
"The Ery family means a lot to this community," explained Wirth. "Everyone benefitted from having them live here for as long as they did," she added.
Known as the "bike fixer," Chad Ery recently re-visited his old neighborhood, where a steady stream of children vied for his attention. He laughingly remarked that his former house's front lawn looked the best he had ever seen it because, when he lived there, neighborhood kids gathered there to play football.
After greeting a couple that came over to give him a hug, he said, "I have life-long friends here. We helped build each other's houses. We made a community from scratch."
He said the experience of applying for the Habitat program and putting in 400 hours of sweat equity -- building the house, taking responsible homeowner courses and volunteering -- was life-changing.
According to the Erys, giving the house back to Habitat was the right choice for them. "This house is meant to help someone else," Chad Ery said.
A New Owner, a New Legacy
The house in Brendan Woods soon will have a new owner. Wirth said the likely purchaser is an older, single woman raising her grandchildren. She has worked "really hard" at the same job for the past 15 years but has never been able to afford her own home, Wirth said.