September 4, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald
Beattyville, Ky.

A partnership between the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and Habitat for Humanity is giving some Lee County families hope for the future. Together these organizations have renovated or built new homes for more than 60 families since 1996.

Ten years ago, UK Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) assistant Brenda Childers joined the Lee County Habitat for Humanity board. Ever since, she has been finding ways to help local families create budgets, stretch food dollars, grow home gardens and helping them qualify to be approved as Habitat for Humanity participants.

Childers said she's trying to help her families get safer housing that more adequately meets their needs. She calls them her families because she truly gets involved in their lives by making home visits and being a liaison between families and other organizations that provide support to those in need.

"Everyone thinks everyone has running water inside the home," she said. "But that's just not true. Being able to help my families gives me a lot of joy."
Lee County is the first county to make EFNEP membership a requirement in the Habitat for Humanity contract.

"Lee County is very unique because of how EFNEP and Habitat for Humanity work together," said Louise Moore, EFNEP coordinator. "It is the ideal situation and one we would like to see in every Kentucky county. Habitat wants the families to learn certain skills and we teach those, so this partnership makes both organizations more effective."

Herman Newton is the executive director for Habitat for Humanity in Lee County. He said volunteers are now working on their ninth renovation of 2002 and getting ready to start a new home soon. He said they sponsor volunteers from "all over the place."

"In 1999, 15 ladies came from Belfast, Ireland to help with a blitz we did," Newton said. "That was a real good experience for all of us."

A blitz is when volunteers complete a home in one week. Newton said they begin working at 8 a.m. on the Monday morning of a blitz week.

"On Friday of that week, you stand on the porch and dedicate the house and then give the keys to the new owners," he said. "I would really like to try and build one in two days! Habitat for Humanity is a real ministry for me. I'm able to help families and I really enjoy that."

Newton said the partnership with EFNEP is very beneficial since grant opportunities are more abundant when Habitat can show it has more partnerships. He said Childers support has been instrumental in the success of the program.

"Brenda does the mentoring," he said. "She does the home visits; she sets up the budgets and helps determine what families are eligible. She's just a real asset to Habitat."

One of Childers and Newton's success stories is Alicia Williams. Williams and her husband moved to Kentucky nine years ago. Her father was born and raised in Lee County and he and his wife decided to retire "back home" after living in Michigan for many years. Alicia and her family followed them soon after.

"I worked with Brenda at the catholic church Christmas program," she said. "She got me involved with Habitat things about a year before I qualified to get my house. Brenda is out
in the community a lot, so she sees who needs help and she helps them get it."

That was more than three years ago and Williams said she and her husband were living with their four kids in a three-bedroom house at the time. It needed a new roof and the electric bills were "outrageous" in the winter.

"When you have four kids, it's hard to get ahead enough to afford the down payment to purchase a house, so Habitat was a big help," she said. "EFNEP helped with learning to stretch my food money and budgeting in general."

Childers said she enjoys seeing how new or renovated homes bring smiles and hope to her families.

"Some of my families are so depressed, but when you give them something new their faces light up," she said. "Most of them go on to have better lives and some get better jobs. Some who weren't working before are working now."

Another benefit of the partnership between EFNEP and Habitat for Humanity is that families are able to use the hours spent in EFNEP training and volunteering toward the 500 sweat equity hours Habitat requires of its families. Alicia Williams completed her 500 hours a long time ago, but she still helps out with sponsoring organizations whenever she gets a chance.

Childers said she keeps up with her families long after the one-year contract ends. She still makes home visits or at least phone calls to determine continuing needs.

"If they are running short on money for their electric bills, I tell them how to get in touch with the community action program," she said. "If they run short on food, like we all do sometimes, I tell them about the Lee County Food Bank."

Childers wants her families to learn to grow a garden to help with food needs. She's able to get them vouchers for garden seeds, and then EFNEP classes teach them how to can and preserve food.
"They are living better lives and they are a lot happier," she said. "It's great to hear kids get excited about their new rooms."


Brenda Childers  606-464-2759