Patuxent Habitat for Humanity -- How it all Began
The genesis of PHH was my long term relationship with the Weems family. I had known Mr. Weems from when he was a young man, working with his older brother doing some work for me at my house. I saw him get married and promptly start a family. He and his wife decided to have a large family, but struggled financially due to the lack of education and the family that was welcoming a new baby almost every year.
By 1999, they had nine children and another on the way. (Some of this was prompted by religious beliefs.) I visited them in their ghetto type, walk-up apartment in Lexington Park. I was appalled by their living conditions. The apartment was very small, with mattresses all over the floors. Each kid had a large, black garbage bag in which to keep their clothes. The place was a fire trap and was surrounded by other apartments with unsavory inhabitants that were a terrible influence, and even a threat to the kids.
I made up my mind that something had to be done to help them. I thought about Habitat. After some research, I visited a board meeting of Habitat for Humanity for Southern Maryland in Waldorf. Their territory covered Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert Counties. I made the case for a Habitat house for the Weems family, and followed it up with a letter. Their response was that, if I would join their board and lead the project, they would consider my request.
I joined the board, and after a few meetings, I was convinced that the organization was totally ineffective and was hardly serving Calvert and St. Mary’s at all. I got a few of my friends to join me on the board in order to have a stronger position. After a few more meetings, I proposed that Habitat for Humanity for Southern Maryland be split into two organizations in order to better serve southern Maryland, and after some very difficult negotiations, the proposal was approved in late 2001 by Habitat for Humanity for Southern Maryland. One organization would cover Charles County and the other would cover Calvert and St. Mary’s.
I then gathered several more friends and convinced them to help me do the necessary work to establish a new Habitat affiliate. It was a long and tedious process of research, development, gaining financial and community support, documentation, interviews, etc. By the fall of 2002 we had completed all the required preliminary work and applied for affiliate status. This was not finally approved till spring of 2003, when we got our official approval as a Habitat for Humanity affiliate. There were several true heroes that helped make all that happen! I promptly enlisted my friends to serve on our first board of directors and we named our organization Patuxent Habitat for Humanity. We were quite proud!
In the meantime, we had continued to work under the Southern Maryland organization and actually broke ground for the Weems house in the fall of 2002. Our lack of building experience showed immediately. We excavated the basement for the two story, four bedroom home and it immediately filled with water. After a winter, even worse than we just experienced, we finally restarted construction in the spring of 2003. We completed the Weems home in August, 2003. The dedication of our first PHH house was on September 19th, 2003, nearly four long, difficult years after the first letter was written.
It was quite a celebration! The Weems became our poster family. We were on our way to providing safe, affordable housing for many deserving families! We were ecstatic with our success!
But our great thrill of success was short-lived, when the realities began to set in. Where and how would we raise the amount of money needed for a successful program? How would we attract enough volunteers? Land would be expensive. How would we procure enough money to support a building program? How would we recruit the leadership needed? And how would we pay for an executive director?
I would like to say that we resolved all those challenges, because we really did. In fact we have solved each of them many times since then. And a good affiliate will have a plan and a way to continue to solve each of those problems on a continuing basis if they are to be successful. It all boils down to “people, money and land”!
PHH has had many successes along the way, primarily due to the efforts of a long line of PHH “heroes”, who truly made the Habitat mission a major part of their lives. They hung in there for years, and a few of them are still there with you. I am so thankful and proud to have worked with them. Dedicated leaders and workers like that, as well as the new ones that you recruit, are what ensure the long term success of an affiliate.
The real prize to all of us is seeing the great difference PHH has made in the lives of so many, especially the children! I have had the good fortune to stay in touch with our original “poster family”, the Weems, over the years. Although finances have been a continuing problem for them, they have managed to raise eleven fine children. The first six of them have all graduated from high school and one of them is now in college. It appears that all of them will have good, productive lives. This could not have happened if it had not been for PHH. It really makes the memory of working in the soggy mud in the basement of their house eleven years ago seem really worthwhile!
Thanks for all you are doing. Good luck and God bless you in your work in the future to give more families decent, safe and affordable housing.
Founder, Patuxent Habitat for Humanity