Homes, communities, and hope – when local families partner with Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties, this is what they are seeking. When our organization was initially chartered in 1982, it was to meet the critical need for safe, decent, and affordable housing in Harlem Heights, and it was about strengthening the community that lived there.
In 1979, there were 43 families at risk of being displaced due to code violations, because the “homes” they lived in at the time were nothing more than shacks. They didn’t even have electricity or indoor plumbing. Still, the people who lived there feared losing those homes and the only community they had ever known.
Approximately 900 feet from the new playground in our largest, planned neighborhood, Heritage Heights, is where the first ever Lee County, Habitat for Humanity home was built. The Harlem Heights residents who purchased that home 41 years ago still live there today.
As the first six of 150 affordable homes that are planned for Heritage Heights were nearing completion, we began to consider Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties’ roots, which begin in Harlem Heights. Planning our first major event since the start of the pandemic to bless the families that will be moving into those first six homes felt like the right thing to do. So, on Friday, May 21st, 2021, we hosted approximately 200 guests on the grounds at Heritage Heights, and together we celebrated.
During the event, our CEO, Becky Lucas, opened with a warm welcome, and a brief explanation of our Harlem Heights beginnings, pointing in the direction of that first Habitat home. Our Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Vince Modarelli, addressed the crowd, proudly recognizing the donors, supporters and sponsors that have helped to make this neighborhood possible. Then, Vince introduced our Chairman of the Board, Carl Barraco. Carl walked up to the podium with his glass of water in hand, explaining that he might need it, because talking about Habitat always gets him a little choked up.
“In the 39 years that Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties has been working to break the cycle of poverty in Harlem Heights through decent, safe, stable, and affordable homeownership, one family has led the way in nearly every way imaginable,” Carl said. The family he was referring to, was the Lucas family, who has led at one point or another with the position of board chair, and CEO, and more than $3.3 million in charitable gifts to Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties. “This family has led mightily and has inspired others to do likewise,” Carl said, as he prepared to make a special announcement in their name.
Carl explained that the first home in Heritage Heights will serve more than just one family. As Habitat’s new satellite welcome center, it will be the starting point for 144 additional families who dream of planting roots and owning homes they can afford in Harlem Heights, plus, countless more families with dreams of homeownership in Lee County. It will serve hundreds of families, and we’re calling it the Lucas Family Welcome Center.
Then, as we moved on to the main event, each of the six families that will purchase homes in Heritage Heights made their way to the stage one by one, to share their stories, receive their symbolic gifts, and be blessed.
One of those homeowners was Habib and his wife Moulkheir. Over the 14 years they spent living in Fort Myers, Habib and Moulkheir lived in four different homes. Habib told the crowd that he spent all his time working just to make ends meet – leaving his house at eight in the morning and sometimes not returning until ten o’clock at night. “The people at Habitat – they really helped me, they opened the door for me, they extended their arms to the extreme – and through them, I found out that there are some beautiful people on this Earth… Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.
After each family was introduced and given the opportunity to speak, all 200 Habitat staff, volunteers, supporters, donors, sponsors, faith partners, advocates and leaders bowed their heads to bless each new homeowner, their families, and their futures. Then, all the children ran off together to play on the neighborhood playground, the families walked through their future homes with one another, and the sense that Heritage Heights is already a strong and thriving neighborhood was evident. It was a beautiful event, and we feel so blessed to have shared it with all who were able to attend.
You can play a major role in strengthening our local community by making a donation to Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties today. Every contribution has the power to make a difference in the life of a family in need of safe, decent, and affordable shelter.