Monday, May 01, 2006

Habitat for Humanity Initiative in West Feliciana Parish

Several members of the West Feliciana community have met recently to organize a local initiative to build the first home in the parish in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge. The group will focus their efforts in the coming months on fundraising and site selection and hope to have the home built by June, 2007.

Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing by working in partnership with local communities and deserving low-income families to build homes. Habitat then sells the homes to deserving families with a 20-year interest-free mortgage. Habitat is often described as providing a “hand-up, not a hand-out” to working families in need. In addition to paying back the cost of the home, Habitat homeowners are also required to attend training classes and volunteer 350 hours of “sweat equity” building their own home and the homes of other Habitat families.

Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has built more than 200,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1,000,000 people in more than 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter.

The West Feliciana initiative was spurred by Rev. Danny Gleason, pastor of the United Methodist Church in St. Francisville. Rev. Gleason became familiar with the work of Habitat for Humanity during his previous assignments in Bossier City and Lake Charles, Louisiana. He was impressed with Habitat’s emphasis on the sweat equity concept as well as the extensive training which Habitat provides to their partner families supporting their transition into homeownership. Seeing the need to address poverty housing in West Feliciana parish, Rev. Gleason asked parishioner Tom Crouse, chairman of the church’s missions committee, to launch the local effort to build a Habitat home.

Crouse in turn has formed a steering committee composed of seven area ministers, three local elected officials, and the chairmen of several subcommittees. The steering committee members include: Rev. Danny Gleason, Rev. Olton Scott, Rev. Earnest James, Rev. Ron Hardy, Rev. Joe Ratcliffe, Rev. Stephen Holmgren, Rev. Charles Landry, Randy Stevens, Randy Ritchie, and John Cobb. Subcommittee chairmen include Conville Lemoine (Site Selection), Ervie Ellender and George Newton (Solicitations), Michael Clarke and Dick Imhoff (Golf Tournament), Randy Stevens (General Fundraising), Mike Clark (Homeowner Selection and Support), Bill Babineaux and Sue Catchings (Volunteer Committee), and Tracey Banowetz (Public Relations).

The local group, currently calling themselves the West Feliciana Habitat Builders, decided to work under the direction of the Greater Baton Rouge Habitat affiliate. According to Crouse and Lynn Clark, Development Director for the Baton Rouge affiliate, there are several benefits of this approach. Most important, says Crouse, it allows the West Feliciana volunteers to focus on learning the basic process of building a Habitat home while receiving the support of a local affiliate with an experienced staff familiar with the established guidelines of the Habitat for Humanity organization. In turn, says Clark, the Baton Rouge affiliate will provide assistance with professional construction supervision, volunteer coordination and insurance protection, and the family selection and support process.

Indeed, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge can claim a successful track record. Since their inception in 1989, the Baton Rouge affiliate has completed over 130 homes in five parishes: East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston.

The West Feliciana Habitat Builders are focusing their current efforts on site selection and fundraising. They hope to have the building site purchased or donated by July, 2006 and the fundraising effort completed by March, 2007. If those targets are met, then construction could be completed by June, 2007.

A fundraising goal of $75,000 has been established for the West Feliciana project. The fundraising effort will include a golf tournament at The Bluffs as well as solicitations and other fundraising activities. Already, over $11,000 in pledges has been secured and the golf tournament is being planned for later this year.

Although each Habitat homeowner repays the cost of their home with a 20 year mortgage, this mortgage covers only the direct cost of the home and carries no interest payments. As Clark explains, it is necessary to raise funds in advance of construction in because the Habitat organization must carry the 20 year mortgage while charging no interest and making no profit on the loan. The funds are also used to cover the cost of overhead items which are not included in the cost of the home, such as insurance coverage for volunteers, professional construction management, and tools and equipment for the volunteers. As each local affiliate grows and more and more homeowners are making mortgage payments into what is known as the “Fund for Humanity,” their payments are put towards building homes for future Habitat families so that less funding is needed up front.

In the meantime, volunteers and donors are needed to make the first Habitat home in West Feliciana parish a reality. People interested in volunteering or making a donation to the West Feliciana Habitat Builders should contact their minister or Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge at 225-927-6651.

For Additional Information:
West Feliciana Habitat Builders
Tracey Banowetz or Tom Crouse
Public Relations Chairman Steering Committee Chairman
Tel.: 225-655-4028 Tel: 225-634-3319
Email: Email:

For more information on Habitat for Humanity Internation visit