Hometown Habitat News

The Road to Happiness

Pictured Here: Cheryl and David are on a roll volunteering at the Habitat Lake-Sumter Jingle Build Off 2023 creating a special playhouse for a local family. Habitat Homeowners are required to meet requirements other than a 640+ credit score and steady credit – they also perform sweat equity hours towards the purchase of their home.

To Cheryl and David, becoming Habitat Homebuyers means one thing: stability. For nearly sixteen years, the pair have been living in campers and other mobile homes: impermanent spaces that required them not only to move their living space every time threat of a big storm or other natural disaster came along, but also to climb shaky stairs in and out of their mobile home on top of having health conditions that make navigating stairs an especially hazardous task.

Cheryl and David knew that they couldn’t continue to live in that kind of environment, so they began to explore opportunities towards homeownership. Cheryl explains that the initial search was frustrating, as every property they came across was either totally unaffordable, or the condition of the home was almost unlivable.

About three years ago, however, a friend (who happened to be a Habitat Homebuyer themselves) recommended they explore Habitat’s program as a path to homeownership. Though they had to wait a while for the right project to open up, Cheryl and David couldn’t be more excited to finally be building their home. Their home is the second house being built in the Cottages at Heritage Grove, a 23-unit pocket neighborhood and Habitat Lake-Sumter’s first 55+ community. This community is intended for households just like Cheryl and David’s, who have been looking for a safe, affordable place to call their forever home.

“You know, you live in a camper for so long you, you learn to not bring stuff in.

I need something solid…I need something solid during the storms we get down here…

So, this build is very exciting.”

Cheryl and David believe their new home will provide the security, safety, and stability they’ve been searching for. They explain that to them their new space means “Peace, tranquility, quiet, [security], and fun.” Between their persistence in applying over the course of three years and the sweat equity they’ve put into their home, it’s clear that becoming Habitat Homebuyers is a point of pride for the pair.

They’re also both quick to express their gratitude towards those who have donated their time and effort into building their home. Cheryl explains that “I watched these people that come— they don’t know us— and they come, and they help put hours into our house. It’s just amazing. And I watch them in the heat, sweat…they just come out and volunteer their time. And that’s what is amazing…I can’t say enough about that. It’s just amazing that these people will donate their time to a total stranger to help them build or fix their house.”

Between their own sweat equity and the generous aid of volunteers, Cheryl and David are finally seeing their dream of homeownership come true. David explains that for himself— and he believes for many of Habitat’s volunteers and donors as well— participating in this build is about more than just changing someone else’s life: it’s about changing your own.

With the drive to go the extra mile on their journey, Cheryl and David have reached their destination with gratitude and joy.

Meet the Watson Family

watson family 2023

Though we may not always realize it, life’s limitations can sometimes inspire us to strive for heights we may not have reached otherwise.  Ashton Watson is teaching her two children by example, that to be successful you have overcome obstacles to reach your goals in life.

Born in Lake County, Ashton’s road to homeownership has been a goal that she worked hard to achieve.  The family has spent time in a tiny home, lived in a small apartment together, and most recently have been living with Ashton’s mother in Groveland.  Everyone is happy to finally have their own space.  Her two children, Bryson and Kensley, are very happy to finally have their own bedrooms.

“I am excited. Over the moon! I am so thankful and hopeful about finally becoming a homeowner.

Being able to provide a safe space, a place for my kids to finally be able to call home is all I have wanted.”

~ Ashton Watson, Homeowner

Ashton qualified for our homeownership program after going through the application process two separate times with the help of Program Director, Veronica Troxell. When she didn’t qualify the first time she applied for a Habitat home, Ashton didn’t give up. She made the changes needed to qualify and reapplied during another application cycle.  Ashton, like all Habitat Homeowners, invested in the outcome of her new home every step of the way, and participated in her Sweat Equity throughout the process.

“Each homeowner has different needs when they enter the program, so we work with them to offer the specialized support they need in order to participate and become a successful homeowner.”

~ Veronica Troxell, Programs Director

The homeowners earn sweat equity through activities such as volunteering on a worksite or in the office, by attending educational courses such as a First Time Homebuyer, Financial Literacy, or Credit Counseling classes, and many other opportunities for them to get involved. She has participated in different events during this process including Women Build, a veteran’s focused event, and helping place American flags out for the commemoration of Memorial Day.

Ashton wasn’t the only one invested in this process… Habitat homeowners build their homes alongside community partners. For Ashton’s home, Habitat Lake-Sumter partnered with First National Bank of Mount Dora as lead house sponsor to provide the financial investment to build the home, and the students from Eustis Construction Academy at Eustis High School.  The students put the finishing touches on the home before the end of the school year. Some of Ashton’s favorite features of the home are the big blue front door, the spacious backyard and having a bedroom for everyone.

President and CEO of First National Bank of Mount Dora, Bob White, had the privilege to hand over the keys to the Watson Family on May 1st, 2023 during the Home Dedication Ceremony celebrating the completion of the home and the end of the school year for the Eustis Construction Academy students. Established in 1925, First National Bank of Mount Dora has been part of Lake County for nearly a century, helping the area grow and prosper.

It all came together.

Ashton thought owning a home was impossible, but for her family, the impossible became possible!

She is looking forward to the new memories she and her children will make there – their new home has made all the difference in her family’s life.

Habitat for Humanity helps Eustis mom become 1st time homeowner

publix super markets charities with black family 2023

Katy Black , her 17-year-old Chase moved into 3-bed, 2-bath home

EUSTIS, Fla. – For the second time in less than a week, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter is welcoming a family to their future home.

Katy Black and her 17-year-old son Chase were presented with the keys to their new home in Eustis on Thursday.

“To have my own stove again is going to be great and then the closet is going to be even more wonderful because it’s so huge and I have a place to put my things,” Black said.

The three-bed, two-bath house is going to be a big change for the single mother, who currently lives about an hour away in Silver Springs.

“Here, it’s going to open a lot of doors,” Black said. “I’m closer to work. (Chase) will be able to get a job. We’ll be able to do more things.”

Last year, Habitat of Humanity selected Black to build an affordable home with Publix Supermarkets Charities as the signature sponsor.

Black said she faced difficulties in repairing her credit during the application process but is grateful for the opportunity to become a first-time homeowner.

“Just to see the support that I do have, it’s really great because I don’t always see it,” Black said.

While construction has been completed, final touches still need to be made at the home and Black expects to move in by the end of July.

Habitat for Humanity dedicated another home in Eustis Friday in partnership with RoMac Building Supply.

Click here to view the video from News 6 WKMG/ClickOrlando, Mark Lehman, reporter

Habitat for Humanity looks to the future

Yvonne Mooney, of the Village of Duval and a member of the Villagers Habitat for Humanity Club, carries a piece of siding as she helps with construction of a home in Fruitland Park. Staff with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter are reviewing hundreds of applications and choosing the next families who will receive new homes. Bill Mitchell, Daily Sun

Yvonne Mooney, of the Village of Duval and a member of the Villagers Habitat for Humanity Club, carries a piece of siding as she helps with construction of a home in Fruitland Park. Staff with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter are reviewing hundreds of applications and choosing the next families who will receive new homes.
Bill Mitchell, Daily Sun

Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter is gearing up to build its next seven homes. 

The organization closed its application period this week after receiving more than 200 applicants for its next seven homes, which will be built in Leesburg, Lady Lake, Mascotte and Coleman. 

The number of families who applied for affordable housing help was a slight increase from past cycles,  said Lacie Himes, development director with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter.

“It feels great to know we are reaching the people in need, but it’s bittersweet to not get to everyone at once,” she said. 

The next step is to evaluate each application and and choose which families will be accepted, a pime.

“Things like family size, their location and median income are all considered,” Himes said. “So are things like credit.”

Some families are close to meeting the requirements, but need extra help before being eligible.

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter hosts free financial literacy programs to help families learn tools like budgeting and credit counseling.

“I had a homeowner recently close on a home who had previously applied two times and didn’t qualify,” Himes said. “It felt so good to see her grow and get to where she wanted and needed to be.”

Himes said families also need to know how to be good homeowners and how to properly budget for home expenses, and Habitat offers the training even after people are placed, if needed.

Other factors, like where a family is located, can determine whether they make it through the process.

If a family is located in Lady Lake and can’t or does not want to relocate to somewhere a house is being built, they might not get a house in that “cycle,” Himes said. 

Sponsor of the Month: Publix Super Markets Charities

Black Family Dedication with Publix Super Markets Charities Header 2023

For single mother Katy Black, Publix Super Markets Charities has helped radically changed the life of her family.  Publix Super Markets Charities awarded Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter a $50,000 grant in 2023, as signature sponsor of her new home that was constructed in Eustis, FL. Annually, Publix Super Markets Charities has been contributing $35,000 since 2015. Their gift of $50,000 is an increased investment in affordable housing in Lake County and their largest award to Habitat Lake-Sumter to-date.

By being the lead house sponsor, Publix Super Markets Charities provided single-mom, Katy and her son Chase, a decent and affordable place to live. Katy, a first-time homeowner never thought this could be a reality for her and her son, but Publix helped fulfill her dream of homeownership. Katy will now live closer to work, which will lessen her travel expenses significantly. Owning an affordable home will provide Katy and her son the financial freedom they need to improve their future outlook.

“When I found out that owning a home wasn’t out of my reach, that it was obtainable for me at that point after working on and fixing my credit, I could see that I am going to be able to move my kids to a place that is safe and stable.”

           -Katy Black, Homeowner

This home sponsorship has also served as a visual representation of the high-level commitment that Publix has to supporting the community and families. Katy and Chase, along with volunteers from the community, youth groups, and local Publix stores, have put in many hours of sweat equity building their home. To date, there has been 122 volunteers and 2,244 hours spent building this family’s home, including two days of volunteer support from local Publix team members. The home is now completed and Habitat Lake-Sumter invites you to celebrate as Publix helps hand over the keys to the new homeowner.

Katy and Chase are so grateful and excited to embark on this new journey as homeowners.

“Finally, we have something to look forward to and before we know it, we are going to have a safe place to live and call HOME.  This whole journey will all be worth it in the end, and I can’t wait to pull the moving truck into the driveway of our new home.”


Our partnership with Publix Super Markets Charities and volunteers, makes it possible to provide local partner families access, opportunity, and guidance on attaining an affordable home. It has been a great example of what it means to be a changemaker, paying it forward and giving back into your communities.

Media and public are invited to join us on Thursday, June 29th at 9AM for the Black Family Home Dedication Ceremony.

For location and details, please contact Melanie at 352-483-0434 EXT 141


Mike Welch Legacy Build – In Honor of Mike

alston family dedication and mike welch legacy celebration 2023

In partnership with volunteers from across the country, Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter is dedicating the home built during their first ‘blitz build’. The Mike Welch Legacy Build completed building the home from the foundation up in only four weeks, between February 27th and March 25th, 2023.

The build was sponsored by family and friends of Mike Welch. Mike spent a significant amount of time as Construction Manager with the Habitat Lake-Sumter affiliate prior to working for Habitat for Humanity International as the US. Director of Long-term Disaster Recovery.

In Mike’s memory and to honor his life, this Habitat home was constructed for Dionna Alston. This local family was in need of decent, affordable housing. Dionna and her sons, Travon and Dashi, had lived in the same apartment complex since 2013. As a single mother and grandmother, Dionna was accustomed to being solely responsible for meeting the needs of her family.

“I always prayed that one day I could stop renting and obtain my own home. Renting has become more and more expensive throughout the years, and it has not always been the best experience. It was time to step out on faith to reach my goal of home ownership.”

~ Dionna, Homeowner

This Legacy Build, with the partnership of every person involved, helped Dionna’s family realize every bit of her growth and the hard work she put in to build her credit, was beyond her imagination.  

“It is never too late to realize your dreams. Thanks to Habitat for Humanity and all of the people who came together to build our home for helping me to realize mine for me and my family.”

~ Dionna

Mike’s memory will live on in advocacy and Habitat’s mission – building strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter.

“We are privileged to celebrate the spirit of a great community investor, Mike Welch. Building alongside his friends, family, and top-brass members of Habitat for Humanity to commemorate Mike’s lasting influence and to build a home for a deserving family has been memorable,” says Danielle Stroud, CEO and President of Habitat Lake-Sumter.

A Legacy Build not only honors your loved ones but impacts generations, to learn more about Legacy Builds, contact Lacie at (352) 396-6763 or Lacie@HabitatLS.org 

Welcome Home: The Brewington Family

Brewington Family Home Sweet Home 2023

On August 22, 2022, Marsha Brewington was told she had been approved to be a future Habitat homeowner, and she was ecstatic. She had not thought about being a homeowner until she gained custody of her grandchildren, but having them under her care, she knew she wanted a home for them.

Marsha grew up in Sanford, Florida. She lived there her whole life until unexpected circumstances, and a giving friend, brought her to Lake County. During this time, Marsha’s daughter was facing difficulties she could not overcome, leading to Marsha becoming the caretaker for her two grandchildren, Kaemon and Demyla. Though they did not plan on becoming their own family, they wanted to make it as complete as possible. So they added Bella, a cat, and she has been an amazing addition.

They have been living in apartments in Leesburg but have had many issues this year. Pipes burst, causing flooding and damages to their personal belongings, as well as AC issues creating mildew on walls, have left them in a less than ideal living situation. Marsha had heard about the Habitat program and the “amazing things they done to help others and change lives,” so when she had the opportunity to apply, she did not hesitate. Marsha is “excited to be a part of the Habitat family” and so far, she said her “experience has been wonderful.” She is looking forward to helping at the build site as much as possible, and she is also interested in volunteering at the ReStore.

The excitement of having a new home is in full swing for her and her grandchildren. Marsha is looking forward to a few things, one being the driveway/garage. She cannot wait for her own parking space. She is also excited about having a porch to watch the “kids be kids” in the yard. Kaemon and Demyla are both thrilled about having their own rooms. Once in the home, the Brewington’s want to have a small housewarming party with family. They also plan on starting a few new traditions: a happiness jar and a monthly picnic in the yard. No matter the traditions that take place in the home, Marsha believes “the memories are already being made.”

On, April 26, 2023, Marsha was surrounded by the Youth Construction Academy students, the Leesburg High School band and cheer team, staff from the City of Leesburg, home sponsor RoMac Building Supply, and many esteemed members of the community.

During the ceremony, the students shared highlights of their experience and expressed gratitude for participating in the program which has taught them many useful skills they may carry into adulthood. The keys to the home were ceremonially passed from one student to the next, through the hands of Don Magruder, CEO of RoMac Building Supply, into Marsha’s excited hands. Passing this significant set of keys marked the completion of this special project and ushers in a new chapter in the life of the Brewington family.

New Home Key Presentation For Habitat For Humanity In Mascotte

sankey family dedication 2023

The students and faculty of South Lake High School’s construction academy recently turned over the keys to a new home in Mascotte.  The build was sponsored by Habitat For Humanity Lake-Sumter, FL and many local community support partners.  New homeowner, Latoya Sankey, simply shouted, “I’m excited!”  When asked about the process she added, “Has this been a long road?  In general yes but with Habitat it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.  It’s been over a year but I also can’t believe that a year ago, I was sticking a shovel in the dirt.”  She is anticipating moving in with her son Mason and daughter Skyla.

Danielle Stroud, Habitat For Humanity Lake-Sumter CEO shares, “This day is the most exciting day of the year.  The day we get to celebrate the students.  For all of their hard work and everything they’ve learned over the course of the year.”  Looking over at Ms. Sankey she continued, “We also get to bless the family as they move on to this next phase which will be moving into the house.” 

Jared Fullerton, construction teacher at South Lake High School shared his perspective.  “We’re here at the third dedication ceremony we’ve had.  This is a great program working with Habitat For Humanity.  I’m super proud of the students and all the community support we’ve gotten.”  He shifted to thoughts of the Construction Academy program at South Lake High School.  “This is one of the best learning environments for students that want to be in construction.  Without our partners and the students’ dedication, this doesn’t happen.  We are excited to start our fourth house next year.  The program has just gotten more and more popular at school.  This year I had the greatest application numbers for students that want to be in this program.  It’s nice to see the excitement taking place at school.” 

Click here to read the full story by Marty Proctor, South Lake Tablet

Student-built homes bolster community

Victoria Duket, left, wipes her tears as her mother, Debbie Duket celebrates alongside Aidan Campbell, a VHS Construction Management Academy student, during the their new home’s dedication ceremony. With help from Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, students built the house. Rachel Stuart, Daily Sun

Victoria Duket, left, wipes her tears as her mother, Debbie Duket celebrates alongside Aidan Campbell, a VHS Construction Management Academy student, during the their new home’s dedication ceremony. With help from Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, students built the house.
Rachel Stuart, Daily Sun

It didn’t take long for Debbie Duket to start making plans for her new home.

“First, I’m going to put everything in my kitchen and I’m going to cook to my heart’s desire and have people over to eat,” Debbie said. “I’m so excited about using this kitchen, I can’t even tell you.”

Duket and her daughter, Victoria Duket, and granddaughter, Dylann Duket, are the recipients of one of two houses in Wildwood built by students in The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

The dedication ceremony for the Dukets’ home, sponsored by Citizens First Bank, took place April 20, and the ceremony for the McPherson family home, sponsored by RoMac Distribution, happened Monday.

“This isn’t a house, it’s a home,” said Brad Weber, executive vice president and chief lending officer of Citizens First Bank. “And Debbie, this morning you woke up in the place you were living and tonight you get to lay your head down in your own home.”

This is the first time VHS students built two homes in one school year. The program allows them to get hands-on experience in construction while learning the importance of community service.

“It’s a vision in the beginning and they bring it to life,” Debbie said. “With Habitat, the people and the kids, every person involved — they bring it to life.”

VHS student Brett Wilke liked working with his classmates on the project, especially the early stage of putting the framing together.

“It was very interesting — it was fun,” Wilke said. “We learned a lot.”

Wilke said the program has benefits beyond bolstering a future career.

“With this type of stuff, even if you don’t do it for a career, it’s stuff you can do by yourself at your house if something breaks,” Wilke said. “You don’t have to pay someone a bunch of money to fix it, you can do it yourself.”

Though contractors are required to do some of the work on the homes, students work right alongside them.

“It’s a great hands-on experience,” said Pastor Perez, a senior in the academy. “From literally starting from the ground up, starting the framing, all the way up to doing the roofing and the shingles and all that.”

Perez said he enjoyed the experiential form of learning.

“There isn’t a day you’re not learning something different,” Perez said.

At the second ceremony, Shannon McPherson and her son, Devin McPherson, got the keys to their home.

Both expressed appreciation for the work that went into the project.

“I’d come to look at and take pictures (of the home), and there was love and energy when you walked in, even from just the outside,” Shannon said to the students. “I was always seeing all the precision and hard work that you put into our home, and I thank you so much.”

A first for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter: an age-restricted community

The Cottages at Heritage Grove Master Plan

TAVARES – Habitat for Humanity will be building a “pocket neighborhood” for homeowners who are 55 and older.

“It’s the first time we are building an age-restricted community,” said Lacie Himes, development director for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

The site, which has been cleared and infrastructure installed, is in an area behind the Dunkin’ doughnut shop on State Road 19. It was once occupied by mobile homes, and it remains

surrounded by seniors living in mobile homes and a portion of the Dora Canal.

An application workshop will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday (April 20) at the Leesburg Resource Center in Leesburg on County Road 468. Applicants must be on a fixed income, and that income must fall under the requirements of the program.

“There is a need for affordable housing for this population,” Himes said, and Tavares recognized it, too.

It will be called The Cottages at Heritage Grove.

Construction on the first home is expected to begin in May. The organization hopes to be building two houses at a time.

Part of Habitat’s practice is to have the new homeowners participate in the construction with what it calls “sweat equity.” That might look different in the case of the seniors, depending upon their physical condition. They may end up volunteering in the office or thrift store, but opportunities will be available on site, too, she said.

Click here to read the full article by Frank Stanfield for the Daily Commercial

Meet The Benton Family

benton family house and photo with the villages club 2023

Nicole Benton is a hardworking single mother of two growing daughters, Janaiza and Jaide, who has been employed with local company M & S Air Conditioning for over 10 years. Nicole and her daughters have always lived on and off with her grandmother; Shirley, who is now 90 years old. Nicole has always dealt with the hardships of finding a home that was capable of fitting her family, as well as being a good environment for her children to grow up in.

“I have never not appreciated living with my grandmother.  There is never a dull moment, but as

time goes on there is a point where children need their own space and so does a mom.”

~ Nicole Benton

When Nicole’s family heard the great news about Nicole meeting mortgage criteria and being chosen to construct a Habitat Lake-Sumter home, they were  just as excited as Nicole and her daughters.  With their life is a non-stop, 24/7, continuous loop. The Benton family is always on the go for school, work and after school activities. Their new home gives the girls endless opportunities and the education they need to achieve anything they put their minds to.

“As we get ready for this new change in our lives, I go on to think about all of

the opportunities this house will give us and cannot wait for the new beginnings we are

going to face as we move for in the process, thank you so much for this chance to give

my family what we have always, a home to call all ours!”

This new home will bring Nicole and her children closer to other family members and their school.  As they get ready for this new chapter in life, she reflects on the opportunities this home will provide and the new beginnings that come with a home to call their own!

Family moves into home from Habitat

benton family house and photo with the villages club 2023

There was no room for words, only tears, as Nicole Benton and her two daughters received the keys to their home. 

“I’m feeling everything right now; I’m excited, nervous, overjoyed,” Benton said. “This is something we have waited for, for years.” Benton started building the house in November in Lady Lake once the foundation was poured, along with the Villagers Habitat For Humanity club, which sponsored the project. 

This is the third home built by the club since it started four years ago. The first house was completed in November 2020. Now, the group is to the point where members hope the Bentons’ new home won’t be the only one they build this year. 

Read said she remains in contact with every Habitat family she works with.

“They become friends, they are people you build connections with,” Read said. “I can say Nicole is one of my dear friends now.”

Benton and her two daughters, Jaide, 10, and Janaiza, 17, were officially able to move into their three bedroom home after about four months of construction. 

This is the first time both daughters get a room of their own, Benton said. 

“Jaide is so excited to decorate her room and show it off,” she said. “She and Janaiza both already have decorations ready to hang up.”

Excitement was the theme of the day as more people arrived at the home for the dedication.

Sally Read, co-president of Villagers Habitat for Humanity, said she hardly slept the night before.

“There isn’t a more loving, grateful person who deserves this home than Nicole,” Read said. “She was here every single day putting in the work.”

For Habitat recipients, they have to put in a certain amount of sweat equity and are required to participate in a percentage of the construction of the home.


Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter to dedicate new home built for family in need

benton family dedication header 2023

LADY LAKE, Fla. — Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter is set to hand over the keys to a newly built home.

Officials said this will be the third home built along with members from the Villagers Habitat Lake-Sumter Club.

The club raise funds and built the home from the foundation up.

“Working alongside community-minded individuals from the Villagers Habitat Lake-Sumter Club has given us the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships in our community and provide affordable housing solutions for those who need it,” said Danielle Stroud, CEO and President of Habitat Lake-Sumter. “Together, we can do so much more, and we are grateful for their continued partnership.”

Officials said The Villagers Habitat Lake-Sumter Club members have shared Habitat’s mission to advocate, fundraise and volunteer to build a home each year, since 2019.

The group will hand over the keys to the Benton family at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 30, and will be joined by representatives of community partner, TD Charitable Foundation.

Habitat for Humanity receives $50,000 grant from Publix for affordable housing

Publix Volunteers at Bates House in Eustis 2023

Katy Black says living in Eustis will make huge difference

EUSTIS, Fla. – Katy Black gave News 6 a tour of what her new Eustis home will look like.

She and her son Chase Allison, 17, were selected to build an affordable home through Habitat for Humanity.

Though, Black said it was not easy. As a single mom, she had to fix her credit and apply for the program.

Black said living in Eustis will make a huge difference since they currently live in Silver Springs, about an hour away.

“My income goes to paying all the bills on my own and then if I want anything extra, it’s coming out of my pocket. I don’t have a second person to help me,” she said.

Chase has been helping volunteers around the structure and he is looking forward to starting senior year at Eustis High School next year, which is right across the street.

“I’m just ready to graduate and go to trade school just.. it’s a great situation. My mom, she, she deserves it,” Chase said.

Publix Super Markets Charities awarded Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter with a $50,000 grant as a signature sponsor of the new home.

Team members from across multiple Publix locations have come together to build the home.

“For me, you’re giving me a safe, stable place to live and making it affordable for me at the same time,” Black said.

The family said the goal is to move into their new home sometime this summer.

Click here to watch Katy give a tour of her new home with Ezzy Castro, WKMG News 6 reporter

Habitat presents family keys to their new home in Eustis

Sheena Tynes holding keys

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter in partnership with AgeWave Solutions presented Sheena Tynes, a single mother of three, keys to her new home on Wednesday. Her kids, Nathan and Nicholas Demeritte and Skye Cartwright were by her side for this emotional presentation. 

“I can’t stop saying thank you,” Sheena says. “I’ve been praying for this moment.” 

In February 2020, Sheena had lined up a home for her and her children, but it fell through. However, she clung to the promise, “For I know that plans I have for you, says the Lord.” 

The family moved into the Mount Dora Children’s Home for single parent families to help get back on track while maneuvering through a wavering economy during the pandemic. 

Her social worker encouraged her to apply to Habitat for Humanity’s affordable housing program. She was approved and the Women Build 2022 went to work building her home in Eustis, which was completed earlier this month. 

“What an awesome day for an awesome celebration,” Habitat for Humanity board chair Lee Owen says. “We’re so excited for this family and want to give thank for all the hands that went into to building this place for this family.” 

As the presenting sponsor of Women Build 2022, AgeWave Solutions, Inc made it possible to build the Tynes family home, while raising awareness of housing issues facing women, their families, and the community.

A Bible, American flag and a toolbox was presented to the family by supporters in the community during the dedication ceremony. 

Click here to read the full story by Cindy Peterson, Lake & Sumter Style Magazine

VHS Academy holds dry-in for two homes

Debbie Duket, right, learns about her new cabinets from members of The Villages High School Construction Management Academy Jake Phillips, left, and Brady Widmann, who are helping to build her Habitat for Humanity home in Wildwood. George Horsford, Daily Sun

Debbie Duket, right, learns about her new cabinets from members of The Villages High School Construction Management Academy Jake Phillips, left, and Brady Widmann, who are helping to build her Habitat for Humanity home in Wildwood.
George Horsford, Daily Sun

Debbie Duket’s 13-year-old granddaughter soon will have her own room for the first time. Duket’s family is receiving one of the homes students with The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy are building in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. “She and I have shared a room for 13 years, so we are thrilled,” she said. “She wants to decorate.” 

The 27 academy seniors are building two homes this year instead of one — a first for the academy. Students, sponsors and community members celebrated the halfway point of both homes with a dry-in ceremony Friday at the home sites in Wildwood. 

Citizens First Bank is sponsoring Duket’s home, a 1,461-square-foot house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Duket will move in by the end of the school year with her daughter Victoria Duket and her granddaughter Dylann Duket. 

“They’re beautiful homes, well-made,” Debbie said. “And I just feel like there is so much love in it. I got goosebumps walking in it today. It’s almost done. It’s so close.”

Brad Weber, executive vice president and chief lending officer of Citizens First Bank, said projects like this benefit families and communities as a whole. 

“We know it is proven that homeownership brings up the quality of every community,” Weber said. “And that’s why projects like this are so important.” 

Weber also said it is an investment for the students. 

“Not only are we building two homes, and not only are we improving the quality of the community, but we’re improving the quality of our future with these students who work so hard on these homes,” he said. 

RoMac Building Supply, based in Leesburg, is sponsoring the second home, a 1,215-square-foot house with two bedrooms and one bathroom. 

Don Magruder, chief executive officer of RoMac Building Supply, said he looks at the students as the future of the industry. 

“But more importantly, you guys are doing something very important for these families and this community,” he told them during the ceremony. “You’re doing something good and it makes you feel good about this generation coming up.”

The construction projects allow students to work with industry partners and learn all the skills needed to build a home.

They can earn industry certifications while in the academy and gain valuable job experience. 

Holiday Appeal

brewington family end of the year appeal 2022

As I look forward to the season of celebration that is upon us, I can’t help but recall the families who have been blessed this year, thanks to your compassionate giving.  

Because of your support, we’ve built 278 new homes and repaired more than 280 homes for families since 1989, providing access to the most valuable gift we can give– a safe place to call home.

But families in Lake and Sumter Counties are facing unprecedented challenges. In this time of tremendous need, here is a powerful opportunity to make a difference.

For the second year in a row, Citizens First Bank has offered an outstanding match (up to $100,000)!

Give today and your gift of $50 will be doubled to become $100.

Your gift of $250 will become $500!

This year’s challenge gift opportunity is coming at a crucial time. Between escalating housing costs and inflation, owning a home feels out of reach for more and more people in Lake and Sumter counties. Families like the Brewington’s face the difficult choice between rising housing costs and life’s necessities, like nutritious food or new shoes for school.

During difficult times, we count on you.

Your donation gives hope to families like the Brewington’s. As a first-time homeowner, Marsha will be able to raise her grandchildren with the safety and stability that comes from home, providing Kaemon and Demyla a place to learn and grow. An affordable home removes barriers to opportunity and provides financial flexibility to build a better future for the Brewington Family.

Will you give the gift of home this holiday season?


Danielle Stroud signature

Danielle Stroud

P.S. Make a gift today and help us double the $100,000 donation from Citizen’s First Bank, so we can make an even BIGGER impact for people in need of decent housing.

Club raises walls on new Lady Lake home


villages daily sun article 11.2022

Jaide Benton, 10, right, watches as her mother, Nicole Benton gives a hug to Marv Baden, of Fruitland Park, who is the project manager for the Habitat for Humanity Villages Club build site in Fruitland Park.
George Horsford, Daily Sun

Tears traced a path down Nicole Benton’s cheeks as she helped raise up the first wall of the home that will soon belong to her. On Tuesday, Benton and her two children helped lift the wood frames for the first four walls of their future home in Lady Lake. It’s being built by The Villages Habitat for Humanity Club, which is affiliated with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter. The Benton home is the club’s third house, and it will be the first house members finish in 2023. Sally Read, co-president of the club in The Villages, said the members do all the fundraising needed to build the homes. It costs $15,000 for the club to have exclusive rights to build each house. “We do constant fundraising, but it’s always worth it,” she said. “I’ll help raise whatever it takes to build homes for these families.”

Benton, who is a single mother of two, said she knew their lives would change the moment the walls started going up.

“It’s a lot of emotions,” she said. “You’re feeling so much at once. It’s a lot of gratitude. I’m thankful to Habitat and everyone who is helping us and helping make this happen.”

Read and other club members are ready to get the house’s construction going and are aiming for an April finish.

“It could change because of supply chains and other delays,” said Read, of the Village of Tall Trees. “But it’s nice for us to do houses this time of year because the weather is cooler. No one likes to do construction in intense heat.”

Click here to read the full article by Senior writer Maddie Cutler at the Villages Daily Sun.

Buying Whole Food Ingredients with Chef Ze!

buying whole foods 2022

So far in this series, we’ve looked at five inflation-busting tips, planning meals in advance and now I want to discuss buying whole food ingredients and how this can save you money. When you hear the term whole food, don’t think of the famous grocery store chain, but think of basic ingredients that are used to make meals.

A perfect example of a whole food ingredient would be heavy cream. While it is seen as an additive to sauces it can also be used to make butter. There are a lot of benefits to using whole food ingredients. The benefits are endless but here are my three favorites:

  1. Whole food ingredients are less expensive.
  2. Can be used in multiple meals.
  3. Are better for your health

The easiest way to incorporate whole food ingredients into your meals is staying away from the center aisles and shopping the outer aisles of your grocery store and staying away from mixes, and flavoring sauces. Sure, using whole food ingredients is more time consuming but the health benefits and the potential amount of money you will be saving is more than worth it in the end. Here are a few whole food ingredients and the dishes

  1. Oranges- jam, marinade, citrus salad, the juice can also be used as sweetener for teas and other drinks.
  2. Flour- sure you can make homemade bread, biscuits, cakes, and can also be used as a breading when frying and a thickener for homemade sauces and gravy.
  3. Tomatoes- ripe tomatoes can be used to make sauces, and are the perfect base for vegetable juice blends and of course salads.

While this is a brief list of whole food ingredients and their uses, the list goes on. I suggest going through your cabinets and looking at the ingredients in your prepackaged meals and mixes and make an effort to buy the ingredients separately.

In our next article, we’ll review the importance of understanding your food groups. I hope you’re finding ways to incorporate these ideas into your own family’s budget, and, as always, thanks for reading.

Chef Zè signature

Planning Your Meals in Advance with Ze Carter

planning you meals in advance with chef ze carter

Last month I shared with you five inflation-busting tips to help your food dollars go further. This month I want to expand on one of those principals: Planning Your Meals in Advance.

The concept of pre-planning meals is certainly not a new one, but it is essential if you want to make the most of your monthly food budget. Besides saving you a lot of money, pre-planning your meals gives you an opportunity to make healthier food choices for you and your family. Here are five tips to help you make the most of planning your meals:

  1. Plan your meals according to the season. Although technology has made many foods available year round, mother nature is still the boss when it comes to peak harvesting times for fruits and vegetables. Knowing when a fruit or vegetable is at the peak of its harvesting season will benefit you because it will taste its best and it will also be more economical to buy.
  2. Start small by planning only a few days at a time. Meal planning is not complicated but can seem overwhelming at first. Taking it day by day then expanding to a week will help you build your core recipes and family favorites. As you get comfortable doing that, you can expand your planning to an entire month, which will make this task less challenging.
  3. Shop the sales. You can plan your meals in advance then plan around your local grocery store sales. Compiling several weeks of planned meals will allow you to shift meals around according to whatever items are on sale. 
  4. Plan themed meal nights. Discover foods from different regions and incorporate this into your meal plans; for example, Taco Tuesday and Amazing African Inspired Friday.
  5. Leave a free day–plan on not planning! Whether that’s having a leftovers day or choosing to grab an occasional meal out when you’re busy, it’s okay. Don’t punish yourself for not cooking.

So far in this series, we’ve looked at five inflation-busting tips and planning meals in advance. In our next article, we’ll review buying whole foods. I hope you’re finding ways to incorporate these ideas into your own family’s budget, and, as always, thanks for reading!

Chef Zè signature

Almost Home: The Tynes Family

tynes family photos 2022

Sheena Tynes, a soon to be homeowner with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, is patiently awaiting the completion of her future home. Sheena’s home is the product of Women Build, an annual event held by Habitat Lake-Sumter each spring, but more importantly, it is her first step into homeownership for her and her children since moving back to the United States ten years ago. Sheena works as an assistant manager at a loan company in Leesburg and she has 3 children: Nicholas, Nathan, and Skye. They are all excited about their new space.  The Tynes Family has lived in Mount Dora for 10 years, and all those years, they have been working toward this moment. As the construction of their home progresses, Sheena admits her children are “excited because they want their own space. They’re ready. That’s something they keep talking about.”

Habitat for Humanity was not always on Sheena’s radar, but after having a previous home fall through, and living in a single-parent program at Mount Dora Christian Home, a social worker relayed Habitat Lake-Sumter’s home ownership program to her. It took a bit to get going, but Sheena prayed about the opportunity and now that she is in the program, she is “excited for the next step.” Sheena dedicates her Saturdays to completing her sweat equity hours and her sons have also volunteered by painting houses at other Habitat project sites. She has never had any experience in the building/construction field, so this experience has allowed her to learn new skills. One thing she has learned in this process…the home is always morphing. Every time she looks at the house “it keeps changing.”

Her 4/2 house is offering something that seems taken for granted often, her own space. She has been shopping for bedroom, living room, and patio furniture. Like many people in Lake County, she is excited to do some front porch sitting. Relaxing mornings on the front porch drinking coffee are in her future. Sheena knows it will be her spot to reminisce about her grandma. This process takes time, hard work, and sweat (in abundance), but when it comes down to it, she “just wants to get in” and have the house to herself for a bit.

From losing a previous house to applying with Habitat, Sheena has trusted God through the process and the waiting. The process has been “pleasant and easy” for all parties involved. We’re so glad to have the opportunity to partner with the Tynes family and provide an end to their time of waiting. Sheena’s future home is already past the plumbing, electrical, and duct work phases, which means the move-in day is near and her front porch days are not far off. Eustis is a new town for her which she hasn’t spent much time, so she is looking forward to exploring downtown and the events it has to offer. One request from Sheena is for her house to be prayed over. Well Sheena, prayer is on the way. Enjoy your new home and your coffee on the porch!

VHS Construction Management Academy breaks ground on second home

Members of The Villages High School Construction Management Academy participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the two homes they are building for Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, Florida, in Wildwood. One home is going to Debbie Duket, left, who is joined by her granddaughter, Dylann Duket, 12, and the other home will be going to Shannon McPherson, and her son, Devin McPherson, center. George Horsford, Daily Sun

Members of The Villages High School Construction Management Academy participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the two homes they are building for Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, Florida, in Wildwood. One home is going to Debbie Duket, left, who is joined by her granddaughter, Dylann Duket, 12, and the other home will be going to Shannon McPherson, and her son, Devin McPherson, center.
George Horsford, Daily Sun

Shannon McPherson could not find the words to express her gratitude. 

She couldn’t even find one word. 

The Leesburg resident and her son, Devin, will live in the second home students with The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy are building through Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

“One word can’t encapsulate it,” McPherson said. “It’s not a single-word journey.” 

She helped moved piles of dirt for her future home during the groundbreaking Wednesday in Wildwood. 

This is the first year VHS Construction Management Academy students are building two homes. Students broke ground on the other home in August. 

VHS Principal Rob Grant said the academy and the partnership with Habitat gives students a snapshot of what it’s like to have a career in construction.

“I hope you all have a great experience. You are going to do what no other class has ever done — build two homes,”  Grant said to the crowd. 

Business partners such as Citizens First Bank, RoMac Distribution and RoMac Building Supply also attended Wednesday’s event.

Justin Cooper, a general manager at RoMac Distribution, spoke about the need for more people in the industry. 

“We need you in the future of building,” Cooper said to students. “I don’t know if you know how important it is, but there is always construction, and there is always building to be done. You guys will play a critical role in that. So, to have young men and young women interested in that — thank you.”

Bruce Haberle,  instructor of The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy, is proud that students are taking on two homes this year. 

“I think it’s really awesome that, one, we have the manpower,” Haberle said. “And now we have knowledge from the first house to jump into the second house. The kids are doing really well this year.”

Click here to read the full story by

Family opens door to a brighter future

Harper Family Ribbon Cutting

Dawnkevya Harper spent months hammering nails and helping hang sheetrock at her new home in Fruitland Park. On Monday, she finally got the keys and stepped inside the house for the first time as the homeowner. Harper and her family were chosen by Habitat for Humanity to receive a house in the area. They attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday surrounded by loved ones, neighbors and members of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and The Villages Habitat Club. “I’m excited,” she said. “I came by almost every day to check on things and water the grass. I’m happy the kids will have a yard to play in.”

Harper has five children between the ages of 1 and 13 years old. Her youngest son, De-Legend Jones, and her oldest son, Raymond Reed, attended the ribbon-cutting along with Harper’s mother, Samantha Jackson, her fiance, Julius Daniels, and Daniels’ mother, Ema Mann. 

Harper was overcome with emotion, so her mother thanked the organization on behalf of the whole family.

“From the day she got the call she was getting the house, we all were so excited,” Jackson said. “It is a beautiful thing getting to see your loved ones have their own place to call home.”

Almost Home: Meet the Cepero Family

The Cepero Family 2022

Summer is the time for fun in the sun, but for the Cepero family, it is the time for closing on their first ever owned home. “Thank God we were blessed to have our own home in Eustis,” these are the words of Brenda Cepero, Habitat homeowner (soon to be). She feels blessed to have partnered with Habitat, but Habitat would also say our organization was blessed by her and her family.

Brenda Cepero, 52, has been living in a small Eustis apartment with three people she loves dearly: her daughter, Stephanie, her son, Victor, and Victor’s girlfriend, Angela. As a family, they enjoy each other’s camaraderie during everyday life, especially during family game night. As a family they are growing their careers and working on deepening their education, however, they have never had the ability to purchase their own home. Through conversation, a friend shared Habitat for Humanity’s housing program with Brenda and from there the process began.

Brenda shared that “the application process was easy and went smoothly. I was guided through the process by very helpful Habitat employees…We feel great about our new home…It’s something we’ve wanted to do, but never had the opportunity. Thanks to Habitat for Humanity, we have the opportunity now and we can’t wait.” This sentiment is everything Habitat wants to embody: Habitat, the community, and the people in it coming together to work toward a better future.

With all the positive notes regarding the Cepero family’s process and experience, there still were some construction setbacks. The process to build the home has had its challenges. Construction delays due to timing and issues with procuring needed materials and permits caused inevitable hinderances. Even with the realities that come with a task so large as building a home, the Cepero family put their frustration aside and remained optimistic throughout the obstacles.   

With or without challenges, the unique detail about Habitat and their homeowners it that it is a partnership. With every homeowner there is a relationship made and time spent. Brenda, Stephanie, Victor, and Angela have all assisted Habitat in various ways through the Sweat Equity Program.  Devoting countless hours whether volunteering in the office, assisting in construction projects, working in the ReStore, participating in the Jingle Build Off, attending Women’s Build Events, or painting their own home, they have selflessly poured their time into Habitat’s causes; therefore helping to further what Habitat can do for others. They are another illustration of how a family and Habitat for Humanity are better together.      

As the Cepero family and their home approach the closing date, one of the most exciting details for the family is that the home will be theirs and only theirs. This means they can do with it what they want, specifically, decorating it as desired. They were able to pick the color palette for the interior and they are “excited” to put everything in it that could not fit in the apartment because of space. The family made it clear though, once moved in and decorated, they “are going to party and have some fun.”  They are most excited about making memories in their own home. They look forward to celebrating birthdays, holidays, and anything in between.  Brenda, Stephanie, Victor, and Angela are a family, and now they are also part of the Habitat family.

We were so blessed to partner with them. From Habitat to the Cepero family, we hope you love your new home!

Students help fulfill family’s home dream

The Thomas Family with the Villages Charter School students 2022

A local family of five has finally gotten the home it always wanted. On Friday morning, Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter and members of the Construction Management Academy at The Villages High School presented the keys to a brand new home in Wildwood to Shane Thomas, Nicole Brandon and their three children. Thomas addressed the crowd at the dedication ceremony. “This means a lot to my family,” he said. “We struggled a lot for a long time, so to be able to have a home that we can call our own — it’s hard to put it into words.” All 13 VHS seniors in the construction academy were involved in various capacities throughout the build, from flooring to the roof’s trusses, to help them get a real feel for the work.

 The Construction Management Academy is just one of multiple academies available at The Villages High School that prepare students for post-secondary education and the workforce.

“These are kids building a home like this,” Thomas said. “It’s amazing, guys.” 

During the ceremony, each student was introduced, and construction academy instructor Bruce Haberle commented on their performance in the program. VHS Principal Rob Grant also was in attendance.

“It’s one of my favorite days of the year as a principal — being able to come out and see the accomplishments of our kids,” Grant said.

Danielle Stroud, president and chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, spoke about what building and dedicating a home means for students and the community.

“What you guys built here today will last past your time in school,” Stroud said. “And it will continue to invest in families just like you guys.”

The Brandon family put in more than 200 “sweat equity hours,” which included helping out with the build and taking financial literacy courses, Stroud said. 

Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter makes sure the housing is affordable with a manageable mortgage.

Click here for the full story by Garrett Shiflet, Daily Sun Staff Writer

Nonprofits reach out for help as costs rise

Volunteers with The Villages Habitat for Humanity Club, left to right, Fran Harper, of the Village of Hemingway, Kevin Tucker, of the Village Del Mar, Andy Laskowsky, of the Village Rio Grande, and John Holmes, of the Village of Pine Ridge, help build a home on Skycrest Boulevard in Fruitland Park. George Horsford, Daily Sun

Volunteers with The Villages Habitat for Humanity Club, left to right, Fran Harper, of the Village of Hemingway, Kevin Tucker, of the Village Del Mar, Andy Laskowsky, of the Village Rio Grande, and John Holmes, of the Village of Pine Ridge, help build a home on Skycrest Boulevard in Fruitland Park.
George Horsford, Daily Sun

Having a home built by The Villages Habitat for Humanity Club was a life-changing event for Joyce Tohill and her family, including her special-needs daughter. Tohill was the recipient of the club’s first build last year in Fruitland Park. When she learned that the group needed assistance, she was quick to sign up to help another family. With inflation slowing some nonprofits’ projects, many are reaching out to the community for a hand. Rising gas prices are affecting cancer patients needing transportation, rising food prices are affecting the amount and type of food local food pantries can hand out, and the rising cost of building supplies is affecting groups that provide housing. The Villages Habitat for Humanity Club had to raise money before starting its second build, which was delayed until December because of building cost increases.

“We knew in October the build was going to be delayed, so we had to get creative,” said Sally Read, co-president of the group. “We held a fundraiser as our costs went from $10,000 to $15,000. We ended up working with Nothing Bundt Cakes in (The Villages) and having an additional fundraiser to meet our goal, but we are still raising money since we will decorate when the build is finished.”

Leesburg High School students work to build homes with Habitat for Humanity

Leesburg High School YCA Dry-In Celebration 2022

LEESBURG, Fla. — A new home is going up in Leesburg thanks to Habitat for Humanity and the Leesburg High School Construction Academy.

These two groups held an event today to honor the students’ hard work and marked the half-way point for the project.

“This is our third house with Habitats for Humanities, so it’s been a wonderful partnership,” said Dr. Monique Griffin-Gay, assistant principal at Leesburg High School. “The students enjoy what they do. They get to get satisfaction of giving a home to someone else. They give back and they also learn a valuable skill.”

Griffin-Gay also shared that the house is going to a Leesburg High School student.

Students in the class said they plan on building another house next year, right next door.

Click here to watch the video and read the full story by James Tutten, WFTV

Leesburg High construction academy marks halfway point on Habitat for Humanity house

Students from the Leesburg High School Construction Academy show off the house they are building with Habitat for Humanity of Lake and Sumter on Wednesday. [Cindy Peterson/Correspondent]

Students from the Leesburg High School Construction Academy show off the house they are building with Habitat for Humanity of Lake and Sumter on Wednesday. [Cindy Peterson/Correspondent]

LEESBURG — Students in the Leesburg High School Construction Academy showed off their progress on the Habitat for Humanity home construction project on Wednesday.

The academy and nonprofit organization marked the halfway point of the house by hosting a dry-in ceremony, marking the completion of the home’s outer shell and the beginning of interior work. 

The home, located at 933 E. Main St. in Leesburg, is the third home built through their partnership which helps introduce students to a career in construction. 

“This project is really two-fold,” Danielle Stroud of Habitat for Humanity. “We are able to provide affordable housing to a much-deserving family in the community and the students get hand-on experience in building a house from the ground up.” 

Out of around 200 kids in the Leesburg construction program, a group of 12 to 15 students, are selected to work on this year-long project. The kids take part in every aspect of building a house, working alongside industry professionals and seeing first-hand what it takes to enter the workforce. This year’s home is expected to be finished by the end of the school year in May.

“I feel like I wouldn’t be who I am today without this opportunity,” sophomore Breanna Ice said. “When I joined, I thought it would be just hammers and nails. But I’ve built a family and never thought would I ever be building a house. I love knowing I’m able to help people and that this house will be here long after we are gone.”

Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply is this year’s corporate sponsor and the City of Leesburg donated the land for the home. 

Click here to read the full story by Cindy Peterson, Special to the Daily Commercial

Meet Shenika and Destiny!

Almost Home with Shenika and Destiny 2022

Introducing long time Leesburg residents and among our newest Habitat partner family, Shenika and her daughter, Destiny.

Shenika works at Leesburg UF Hospital as a dietary aid where she has been employed for the last 16 years and Destiny is a 10th grade student at Leesburg High School. They currently reside in a rental unit in Leesburg but have always wanted a home to call their own. “I’ve always wanted my own home for me and my children,” says Shenika, “I have lived in Leesburg my whole life.”

Shenika’s dream of homeownership is possible through Habitat Lake-Sumter’s homeownership program. Their home will be three bedrooms and two baths conveniently located close to both work and school. Shenika investigated the Habitat program via their website. Then through a series of interviews and by working with the Family Services Manager, Veronica Troxell, found she qualified for home ownership. Needless to say, she was very excited. Shenika said, “At first I was nervous to apply because I didn’t think I would get approved then I took the chance and got approved, this was such a great moment for me and my daughter.”

An interesting aspect of this home is that it is being built by Destiny’s fellow students from Leesburg High School who are enrolled a skilled trades program. Working alongside Habitat construction staff and volunteers, students have spent a daily class period building Shenika and Destiny’s future home since September 2021.They work alongside professional trades people and industry professionals who assist in their learning experience and provide them with the necessary skills to get a job after graduation. Destiny knows several of the student builders and they keep her abreast of the progress being made and is told over and over how great this house is going to be.

Both Shenika and Destiny are participating in the required 200 hours of sweat equity. On December 4th, they worked alongside other volunteers and local businesses to construct several playhouses which were donated as Christmas presents to kids in the community. This event is known as Jingle Build Off and is an annual event that takes place the first Saturday in December. Additionally, Shenika has worked at the Habitat Restore and both Shenika and Destiny will be assisting with painting and laying sod at their new home. The sweat equity program allows every Habitat homeowner to give back to the community, gain hands-on skills, and invest personally in the home they will be calling their own. A bit later, Shenika will be taking homeownership classes to help better prepare her for the home-owning experience and the accompanying responsibility of owning a home.

They anticipate moving into their new home in May 2022. Shenika explains what she’s most excited about is “the idea of having your own washer and dryer.”

Destiny agrees, “I feel excited to have a bigger room and to finally say my mother has a house. No More Laundry Mat!”

Shenika has two older sons, Daykon (25) and Traveion (23), and they too are looking forward to spending time with their Mom and sister in their new home.

Both Shenika and Destiny have been very impressed with the help and support they have received from Habitat staff members and volunteers. “We are thankful and blessed for this wonderful experience.”

Written by: Kevin Vogt

Lake County family starts off new year with new home

Sandra and Walter Young with Randy from AgeWave Solutions 2022

LAKE COUNTY , Fla. — For one Lake County family, 2022 is already off to a good start as they were given the keys to a new home Monday.

Sandra Young and Walter Young, of Eustis, had been living with their daughter and her family after suffering some hardships last year.

Because of the cramped living conditions, the couple was forced to live out of boxes in one bedroom.

But thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, AgeWave Solutions and the Women Build project, the Youngs are now the proud owners of a new home.

The family was selected through the organization’s home ownership program and had to volunteer at least 200 hours to help build the two-bedroom, one-bath home.

“We had to put in 200 hours ourselves, that was required, but of course we weren’t going to do just 200,” Sandra said.

Update: The Cottages at Heritage Grove

The Cottages at Heritage Grove July 2021 Update

Last October, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter broke ground on a new housing development in Tavares, FL. Now, we look ahead to laying the foundation for the first home this Fall.

The Cottages at Heritage Grove is a 23-unit pocket neighborhood featuring cottage-style homes and townhomes at approximately 730 square feet. They will be the first age-qualified community built by Habitat Lake-Sumter.

Currently, all major infrastructure is complete, and the first layer of landscaping is soon to be underway. With the economy opening after the Covid-19 pandemic, the construction industry is busier than ever and delays from utility installation to lumber delivery has become standard fare; however, the challenges residents in Central Florida and Habitat Lake-Sumter has faced also highlights the present need for a community like the Cottages at Heritage Grove.

Locally elected officials commissioned Lake 100 to create a Workforce Housing Strategic Plan to highlight housing affordability and workforce housing in our community, and it has shed light on the need for partnerships in providing affordability to families now and in the future.

The community will benefit those in the Central Florida area who are on a fixed income, retired, or looking to maintain affordable housing as senior citizens.

In speaking to the need for affordable housing for senior citizens in Lake and Sumter Counties, Habitat’s Family Service Manager, Veronica Troxell says “We have been inundated with calls and interest around our Tavares Cottages. Countless people are reaching out who are interested and eager to apply for these homes. The cottage-sized home is ideal for aging individuals and couples looking for the stability of their forever-home.” 

The Cottages at Heritage Grove and all 23-units are scheduled to be built over a 3 – 4 year period.

Applications will open in late- 2021. For questions about The Cottages at Heritage Grove or Habitat’s homeownership program, contact Veronica at Veronica@HabitatLS.org or (352) 483-0434 x 124. 

Thrivent and Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter partner to help families stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic

stock family photo

Thrivent and Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter partner to help families stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic


Lake & Sumter, FL (Dec. 21st, 2020) – Thrivent is awarding Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter a contribution of $5,000 to help families in Lake and Sumter Counties stay in their homes. Thrivent’s donation will allow Habitat to provide mortgage relief to Habitat homeowners who need temporary assistance making their mortgage payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. With Thrivent’s support, Habitat Lake-Sumter will sustain affordable homeownership costs for more than 10 families locally.

Prior to the spread of the novel coronavirus, more than 18 million households across the U.S. were paying half or more of their income on a place to live. As the pandemic continues to cause job disruption and economic fallout, many households are enduring lay-offs, unemployment, and pay cuts. This wage loss has amplified the financial burden on households to maintain essential payments and can result in families having to trade-off between bills, mortgage, or medical care.

“We are grateful to partner with Thrivent and offer ongoing support for our Habitat homeowners,” says Danielle Stroud, Sr. Director of Programs and Partnerships. “No one should lose their home because of lost income or unexpected financial burdens caused by the pandemic. Because of Thrivent, we’re able to provide continued stability for local families.”

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter is one of 100 local Habitat organizations across the nation partnering with Thrivent to help families stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, Thrivent is donating $750,000 to Habitat for Humanity to assist with mortgage-related relief and prevent foreclosures across the U.S.

“This year has been incredibly difficult for many people as financial hardship has added stress and anxiety to daily lives,” said Nikki Sorum, senior vice president of Thrivent Advisors at Thrivent. “This pandemic has underscored how important it is for people to have safe, affordable homes. Given all we have endured in 2020, we are especially honored to provide financial support to Habitat for Humanity to help people stay in their homes so they can continue to build toward financial stability.”


Habitat for Humanity and Thrivent began their partnership in 2005. Over the past 15 years, Thrivent and their clients have contributed more than $275 million to Habitat and have partnered with families to build safe, affordable homes across the U.S. and around the world.


About Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, Florida

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, Florida has been your local Hometown Habitat serving individuals in Lake and Sumter Counties with access and opportunity to affordable housing solutions since 1989.   As an affiliate of Habitat International we empower local families to achieve strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter and are united by a shared vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. 


About Thrivent

Thrivent is a diversified financial services organization that helps people achieve financial clarity, enabling lives full of meaning and gratitude. As a mission-driven, membership-owned organization, it offers its more than 2 million members and customers a broad range of financial products, services and guidance. Thrivent and its subsidiary and affiliate companies offer insurance, investments, banking and advice over the phone, online as well as through financial professionals and independent agents nationwide. Thrivent is a Fortune 500 company with $152 billion in assets under management/advisement (as of 12/31/19). Thrivent carries an A++ (Superior) rating from AM Best, a credit rating agency; this is the highest of the agency’s 16 ratings categories and was affirmed in May of 2019. For more information, visit Thrivent.com. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Meet the Wimes Family

"I'm ready to show my kids how the community comes together as one to make things happen." Felisha

Felisha Wimes’ story began in 2012 when she married her husband Jerry. The Wimes’ family includes four children, two adults and one puppy – and space was soon tight with a family of six. Their three sons shared one room, while their dining room became their daughter’s bedroom.

“Jerry and I are very hard workers, but owning a house seems so far away when you are paying such high rent and taking care of a family of six,” Felisha said. Felisha works for the Lake County School system, and Jerry works in healthcare.

The Wimes family lives in Mount Dora, where Jerry’s family is from. They have been in a rental home for about three years, but have always wanted to own their own home.

“The house we are in now is just too small with my children getting older and bigger,” Felisha said, but they were hesitant to leave Mount Dora. “Any time we make any major moves we always ask the kids their thoughts, and they all said that if we could buy a home they would love to be in the Mount Dora area since they have been raised here.”

Felisha found out about Habitat for Humanity from her sister-in-law, who forwarded her an email she’d received about the organization and gave Felisha the information to apply. “This all happened by fate,” Felisha said. “At first I was very hesitant, but decided why not I could really use a miracle and here we are now on our way to becoming homeowners. From the very first call to the very first email, this experience has been wonderful and such a blessing.”

Felisha and her family are excited and feel blessed to become homeowners. Their daughter and eldest son are looking forward to having their own rooms, Jerry can’t wait to have a garage, and the family is planning to have family over for the first time with the extra space for cookouts.

“This journey seems so unreal, not only for myself and my husband, but for my children as well. They have all said how excited they are, but I don’t think it has hit yet that this will be our home forever,” Felisha said. “I am ready to show my kids how the community comes together as one to make things happen.” The one thing Felisha is looking forward to the most is getting a dining room table that can fit her family of six so they can eat together as a family every night.

“We are so excited and thankful to be a part of Habitat for Humanity. We can’t wait to make many memories that will last a lifetime as a family in our new home!”

By- Becky Eaton, Volunteer Writer

Club builds its First Home for a local Family in Need

Fruitland Park ribbon cutting 2020

Joyce Tohill cuts the ribbon for the breaking ground of her new home. Habitat for Humanity staff, members of Habitat for Humanity Lake Sumter The Villages Club, Tohill and her family gather together to celebrate.
Andrea Davis, Daily Sun

Joyce Tohill broke into tears as she walked up to the site where her new home was to be built.

This would be the first home the Tavares resident has owned, and it’s all thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Lake Sumter The Villages Club.

On Friday, club members gathered with Tohill’s family, and Habitat for Humanity staff at the location in Fruitland Park, where the home is going to be built, to celebrate breaking ground. When Tohill arrived, she was immediately overwhelmed by the support of everyone present.

“I’ve assisted with The Women’s Build for Habitat of Humanity,” she said. “But it’s different when you are the one receiving the home.”

After a ribbon-cutting, members celebrated with cake, muffins, juice and coffee and began discussing plans for the build.

“This is the first new build for the club,” said Sally Read, co-president for Habitat for Humanity The Villages Club.

“We are really excited and we will be doing all the decorating for the house as well. The Dream Team consists of several of the guys, and they will act as managers throughout the build so we thought it was the least us ladies in the club could do,” said Read, of the Village of Tall Trees.

Kevin Tucker, president of Habitat for Humanity The Villages Club, said everything was on track.

“The concrete will be poured Monday, and we can get started on the build by Wednesday or the following Monday,” he said. “We are so thankful we are able to provide a home for this family.”

Danielle Stroud, senior director of programs and partnership for Habitat for Humanity, said she was thankful to work with each family that benefits from the group.

“Four out of 10 families make under $30,000 a year,” she said. “So when these volunteers are out swinging hammers, they are the voices making a difference for our local families. I am so thankful Joyce and her family will be blessed and have a home to call their own, because they deserve it.”

Click here to read the full article by staff writer Andrea Davis, The Villages Daily Sun


Boisvert Family with note from Anna

My Name is Michelle Boisvert and thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter I am a future homeowner!

My story begins with my family. I am blessed with six children, three boys, and three girls. The ages of my children are Richard 20, Jessica 17, Kenneth 16, Joseph 11, Anna 9, and Cheryl 7. Being single with six children has been very challenging, but finding affordable housing has been even harder.

I heard about Habitat for Humanity years ago when my employer asked for volunteers to join Habitat for Humanity in a preservation and repair project. A friend and I cleaned and painted the home for a few days. The homeowner was a single older woman who had no one to help her. It was a great experience meeting her and having the opportunity to see how happy she was after her home was complete. 

Now, I work full time for Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, Florida.  I have been an employee for almost three years. It is amazing seeing all the families Habitat is helping and the hope in their eyes when someone is willing to help them.


My Journey

My journey starts with hope for a safe home with a yard for my children. It is a big dream, but one that I have been working towards since we moved here in 2015 to be close to my parents.

Currently, we live in a tiny two-bedroom apartment. Inside the apartment, our stove has not worked since last Thanksgiving. The tub has a large hole, and the front door is breaking. None of the washers and dryers work when we need to do laundry. It is very depressing and makes the situation feel hopeless.

God can always bring good from evil and give hope where there is none. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” (King James Version, Rom 8:28).

The Covid-19 virus pandemic has been very hard on everyone. We have lost jobs, even friends and family. Due to the virus, even Habitat Lake-Sumter made some changes. But these changes made this house available for my family. 


Almost Home

We are all looking forward to being in our new home by Thanksgiving. I am very excited to be working towards this beautiful home for my children. This home is such a blessing for our family. The children are already making plans for the big yard that include a garden and fire pit to roast marshmallows. The main discussion right now is who will get which room. No matter which room they pick, they will finally have a safe place to call home.


Written by Michelle Boisvert – Future Habitat Homeowner

Edited by Rebecca Eaton – Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Writer


6714 Winkles House in Coleman

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter plans to break ground Oct. 16 for a new housing development in Tavares.

The Cottages at Heritage Grove is a 23-unit pocket neighborhood featuring cottage-style homes and townhomes at approximately 730 square feet. They will be the first age-qualified community, 55-plus, built by Habitat Lake-Sumter, in the area of 1406 County Drive, Tavares.

The groundbreaking for the new community comes at a time when housing affordability has risen to the forefront of conversation. In part, due to the efforts of Lake 100’s Workforce Housing Strategic Plan commissioned by locally elected officials.

Danielle Stroud, senior director of programs and partnerships at Habitat Lake-Sumter says the community will benefit those in the Central Florida area who are on a fixed income, retired, or looking to maintain affordable housing as senior citizens.

Click here to read the full article by Akers Editorial from Lake & Sumter Style

Sponsor of the Month: Wells Fargo

September 2020 Sponsor of the Month: Wells Fargo


The issue of attainable housing has been a layered and often, complex problem to address. In a year of new norms and unexpected crisis, precautions and change; the need for housing affordability solutions remains. Even expanding as more families face financial insecurity and housing instability exasperated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yet in the midst of uncertainty, Wells Fargo has maintained their commitment to champion affordable housing solutions in Lake and Sumter Counties. The collaboration with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and Wells Fargo Builds is part of a nationwide effort for capacity building and direct mission support to build, renovate and repair more than 350 affordable homes across the United States. 

Habitat Lake-Sumter was awarded a $30,000 grant to build an affordable home in Leesburg, FL and critically repair a home in Wildwood, FL.

Danielle Stroud, SR. Director of Programs & Partnerships shares how exciting this grant is for Habitat Lake-Sumter, “This is the largest award amount we’ve been granted through Wells Fargo Foundation and it directly impacts our affiliates mission by increasing Habitat’s capacity to serve even more families in Lake County.”

Typically, Wells Fargo hosts a statewide “Day of Service,” a day where team members are encouraged to engage in service projects by volunteering in their communities. Nationwide, “Day of Service” has generated millions of hours in volunteer time and created an environment where ‘community giving’ is embedded in the culture and attitude of Wells Fargo.

However, due to restrictions caused by Covid-19, Wells Fargo employees will not be on-site for the two upcoming projects with Habitat Lake-Sumter. Although the goodwill and camaraderie of the Wells Fargo volunteers will be missed, the output of a critical repair project and a new home build will be invaluable for 2 local families.

“Habitat Lake-Sumter exists to create access and opportunity to affordable housing solutions,” says Danielle, “We partner with families and build an affordable housing product which we are only able to do because of partners like Wells Fargo, who care enough about the end goal: communities where everyone has a safe and secure place to call home.”

Habitat Lake-Sumter is grateful for the legacy of giving from Wells Fargo. In the uncertainty of 2020, Wells Fargo continues to be a community partner and housing champion!


Healthy Housing Series: Part 3

Healthy Housing Series Part 3 Financial Health by Brad Weber Executive VP Chief Lending Officer of Citizens First Bank

What does it mean to be financial healthy?


St. Louis Ave House

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and Lake Cares Food Pantry are partnering together with last minute touches on a newly built Eustis home for a single mom, Rachel Storey and her son, Jackson, 6.

Lake Care has made it a tradition with every Habitat family to provide a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator prior to move-in day, and on July 21, Irene O’Malley, executive director from Lake Cares, will be delivering groceries to the Storey house with some help from Habitat’s Family Service Coordinator Veronica Troxell.

“As anyone knows, moving in is time consuming and we (Lake Cares and Habitat) want to make sure the home is ready with groceries and meals that can be prepared for the coming weeks and provide stability for the homeowner,” says Lacie Himes, associate development director for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

Rachel and her son are eager to move into their new home.

“I’m looking forward to just being with my son and having our own house to call home,” Rachel told Style in an earlier interview. The pair has been living at her parents’ Grand Island home, which they moved into when Rachel was going through a divorce.

“My parents helped me with my son, too, because he was younger at the time,” she says. “I started going back to church and it was like God was putting me back piece by piece. I’m just so thankful for everything. God led me to the right people at the right time and Habitat couldn’t have been better to work with. I am beyond grateful.”

Click here to read the full article by Theresa Campbell of Lake & Sumter Style Magazine


Mount Dora Mayor Catherine T. Hoechst, Nadine Foley, and Monica Wofford pose for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 7 for a new home to be built by Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

Mount Dora Mayor Catherine T. Hoechst, Nadine Foley, a friend and representative of Nancy A. Penn Shaner Trust, and Monica Wofford, a Habitat Lake-Sumter board member, took part in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony July 7 for a new Habitat home to be built at 602 E. Jackson St., Mount Dora.

Bank of America will be the corporate sponsor for the project along with community involvement provided by bequest gifts from the Ohlsson Charitable Trust and Nancy A. Penn-Shaner Trust.

“The community involvement is stemming from individual donors who had the forethought to contribute this way,” says Lacie Lacie Himes, associate development director for Lake-Sumter Habitat.

She adds that the collaboration between Habitat and Bank of America has generated $56,000 in grants over the past several years for new home construction, preservation and repair.

Due to COVID-19, the building site on Jackson street in Mount Dora will be closed to volunteer workers. “We are slowly opening certain locations for volunteers, but we tend to gauge the response the current climate,” says Lacie.

Also before the coronavirus hit, Habitat had planned on female builders to start building a new home construction project in Leesburg, but they had to scale back fundraising and postpone the home build.

“Many awesome female leaders in our community still wanted to support local families,” says Lacie. “So, they raised funds as a group and funded two critical home repairs that had been delayed and were at risk of not happening due to lost resources because of COVID-19.”

Click here to read the full article by Theresa Campbell of Lake & Sumter Style Magazine

Eagles surprises Habitat for Humanity

Fraternal Order of the Eagles Aerie & Auxiliary #4273 Ellen Wiebe Madam President, Jim Ross Eagles President, Lacie Himes HFHLS, Nettie Goeler co-chair, Linda Lewis co-chair

The Lake County Eagles Auxiliary Post 4273 in Okahumpka surprised Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter with a $10,000 grant benefitting its upcoming project, The Cottages at Heritage Grove. The 23-unit pocket neighborhood in Tavares will be Habitat Lake-Sumter’s first 55-plus community.

Infrastructure work is slated to begin in the fall.

The Eagles has a long-standing history with Habitat for Humanity and were sponsors of Habitat Lake-Sumter’s original pocket neighborhood in 2016, The Umatilla Veterans Village.

Details: Lacie Himes at 352-483-0434, ext. 146.

Around the House: A true win-win situation

Lady Lake house

In 2020, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter worked with The Villages Charter High School Construction Management Academy and the Leesburg High School Construction Academy in the construction of two Habitat for Humanity Homes in Lake County.

The home built by The Villages Charter High School Construction Management Academy students is in the Carlton Village area of Lady Lake while the home built by the Leesburg High School Construction Academy students is on North 12th Street in Leesburg. Both projects were a complete success — with the new homeowners having a home for a lifetime built by students who developed skill sets in construction for a lifetime.

The only disappointment was the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented both high schools from following the projects all the way to the end. The students missed the opportunity to finish their Habitat homes, participate in the dedication ceremonies, and receive accolades from a grateful community for a job well done, which resulted in the enhancement of each school’s program. Students in both programs have paved the way for future students and Habitat homeowners.

The 2020-2021 school year promises to be even bigger for the Habitat for Humanity Projects in Lake and Sumter Counties, as these projects are being planned for The Villages Charter High School, Leesburg High School and South Lake High School.

These projects merge public education with private partnerships to help train students for good paying jobs and careers while providing a needed home for a working family. They teach the young people in our community the important of benevolence. Honestly, these programs work because everyone wins.

Thanks to the participation of the community, school district, and private partnerships, these programs a true success. Many people want to get involved and here is how you can participate in one of these great projects.

Each high school has an Advisory Board, which bridges the partnership between the public and private sectors. These Advisory Boards are made up of educators and business-people in the construction community that meet monthly to address the needs of their high school’s program and coordinate community participation.

If you would like to participate on one of the Advisory Boards, contact Lynnea Weissman at the Lake County School District at 352-988-4876, or Rob Grant, the Principal at The Villages Charter High School, at 352-259-3777.

Click here to read the full article by Don Magruder / For the Daily Commercial

Healthy Housing Series Part 2

Healthy Housing Series Part 2: Mental Health

The Impact of Housing on Mental Health

Inadequate housing can act as a barrier to mental health. But safe, decent, and affordable housing can remove barriers to opportunity and success, both mental and physical health; that might have been part of a family’s life for years, if not generations.

As a counselor for the last 22 years I have seen the effects the living environment has on the mental, emotional, and relational life of individuals and families. Having inadequate housing can cause depression, anxiety, and encourage poor methods of coping. It can affect how you see yourself, what you perceive as your value, and what you expect out of life; this can color and affect your personal identity.  In turn, the opposite also proves to be true, a safe and secure home can provide a stable foundation for a healthy life where good habits and loving memories are created.

A home is more than just shelter from a storm, it is a place for personal growth.  A comfortable home atmosphere produces a sense of safety, belonging, peace, and joy. It is an individual’s haven away from the world.  A safe, stable, and affordable home provides a release from the anxiety of wondering if your needs will be met and instead fosters the opportunity for personal growth.

Housing is central to our well-being. When it is affordable, safe, and in good condition, it is the foundation for us to participate fully in and contribute to our families and community.

Let me give you a real life example.  Angie (not her real name for privacy purposes) was a client of mine. She had been married for 10 years to a narcissistic, verbal and emotional abuser. She had two small children, a low-paying job, and felt crushed emotionally from years of abuse. As a counselor, I sought to help her restore her voice and identity. I planned on teaching her how to identify abusive patterns, set boundaries, and instead of reacting, respond with healthy thinking and life skills. I wanted her to obtain discernment skills for a better future.

Living in poor housing affects women more than men. Research by NatCen and Shelter found mothers were more likely to suffer clinical depression if they lived in bad housing: 10% of mothers who lived in acutely bad housing were clinically depressed.

This emotional journey would require Angie to learn how to re-frame faulty thoughts so that she could recast life patterns and have the ability to pass down healthy relationship skills to her children. It would require systematic change, one choice at a time, to produce health and wholeness for her entire family. But, how could any of that be obtained if we didn’t first address her immediate need for a safe place to live?

The emotional strain is faced by millions of families as they struggle to meet their housing costs. According to the research polls: • Almost one in three adults say housing costs are causing stress and depression in their family • One in four are kept awake at night by the stress of paying their rent or mortgage

As a first step to starting this next chapter in her life, Angie and I worked together to find her a place she could call home. A place that was physically safe, devoid of toxins, or peeling paint. A place where her children could go outside without her being afraid for their safety. Once we found her a home that met her needs and provided a sense of security, she was able to put her effort into moving forward and healing mentally and emotionally from past wounds. Thanks to a safe place to call home, she was able to begin the journey into making a new life for her and her children.

About Dr. Michele

For over 22 years she has provided thousands of people with tools and skills to “Think, Choose, and Thrive.” She works in her local office but also serves clients all over the country via online platforms like Skype.

Contact her at www.DrMichele.org, or call (904) 730-0775.

See more from her click here https://www.youtube.com/user/drmichelefleming.

Lake Panasoffkee: Welcome Home

Welcome Home Kim & Sara!

Welcome Home!

Two families who partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter received the keys to their homes on Wednesday, June 17th 2020; Kim Stull and Sara Mcghee officially became homeowners with a hand-up from Habitat Lake-Sumter.

When a family partners with Habitat for Humanity, they take their first step down a new path – one with fewer barriers to a better, healthier, and more financially stable life.

Families may find themselves in need of decent, affordable shelter due to a variety of circumstances—unpredictable rent increases, overcrowded living conditions, damaged or dilapidated structures, or lack of access to affordable financing.

But Habitat Lake-Sumter and our partner families walk side-by-side on the journey to home ownership. Sara and Kim both became active participants in the homeownership process. Following the criteria of our home ownership program, each had to fulfill 200 hours of ‘sweat equity’ by working alongside volunteers to build trusses, paint walls, and hang the doors; to build the places they now call home.

In the midst of fulfilling sweat equity hours, homeowners also attend financial education classes and learn the basics of budget management. Receiving the key to your home signifies more than being approved through a traditional home buying process, it also shows that you’ve invested 200 hours into your new home and education to build a better future for yourself and your family.

While their journey with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter is complete, the journey to a stronger, more stable future begins; we celebrate with Kim and Sara as they take their first steps as new homeowners. Congratulations to The Stull Family and the Mcghee Family!


Building a Healthy Home for Children

Healthy Housing Series Part 1: Physical Health


Building a Healthy Home Environment for Children

The home environment is considered to be one of the most important factors in the neurocognitive development of children. This is especially true in the first years of life when a child’s experiences are predominantly dependent on what is provided by their parents.

The home environment consists of physical and social components, such as household possessions, play materials, parent-child interactions, family size, and structure. Favorable surroundings provide the psychological stimulation and support necessary for optimal development of early cognitive skills. These factors have been proven to lead to education and employment success later in life.


Creating Space to Grow

When a child doesn’t have space to freely move around, normal development can be hindered. A healthy home environment allows children to thrive and reach important developmental milestones that lead to long-term health. For example, gross motor skills help children achieve many tasks that may seem minimal to adults such as learning to walk.

In an overcrowded living space or home full of clutter, children are not safe to be placed on the ground, which can stunt their development. By having floor time and tummy time, children learn to roll, crawl, pull to stand and subsequently walk. This activity enhances brain development which is key to language skills, problem solving skills and fine motor skills. Clutter and crowding in the home can prevent the child from being able to communicate their needs and wants, and exacerbate underlying mental health concerns.


The Importance of a Healthy Home

Children need room to run around and play outside and inside the home. They need an organized, clutter-free environment that promotes imaginative play.

Unfortunately, families of low socio-economic status are forced into choosing food to feed their family over a safe home environment with a yard and room for children to play safely.

Parents living in cost-burdened homes are often unable to provide stimulating materials for their children such as toys and books. A review of research indicates that crowded and inadequate housing increases tension, punitive punishment, aggression and conflict within the household. These conditions can also increase sedentary behaviors, reduce the ability to cope with stress, negatively affect quality of sleep, lead to inflammation and raise the risk of obesity.

A healthy home environment can transform the daily lives of children and create the foundation for long-term physical and cognitive health.

Kristy Beron, APRN, AdventHealth Medical Group


Kristy Beron, APRN, is an advanced practice registered nurse at AdventHealth Medical Group. She specializes in preventive health, acute and chronic illness management, test administration and interpretation, cardiac medicine and urgent care.

To schedule an appointment with Kristy Beron, call 352-343-3330 or visit AdventHealthMedicalGroup.com.


VHS academy builds lion’s share of house

The finished Lady Lake home of a single mom of two boys was built by Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter with the help of students of the Villages High School Construction Management Academy. Michael Johnson, Daily Sun

The finished Lady Lake home of a single mom of two boys was built by Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter with the help of students of the Villages High School Construction Management Academy.
Michael Johnson, Daily Sun

The virtual dedication ceremony for a home that Villages High School students helped build is bittersweet for students. The volunteers and Habitat for Humanity supporters who would normally attend the dedication, including the 11 students, were all absent. “I know they’re disappointed they didn’t get to finish,” said teacher Bruce Haberle, who runs the charter school’s Construction Management Academy. His students built 80% to 85% of the three-bedroom, two-bath house for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, he said. Habitat plans virtual dedications for all five homes that volunteers built this year. Female-led households will receive the keys to their new homes in the dedications between mid-May and June.

Read this story and many others in Wednesday’s edition of the Daily Sun.

Construction Tour

Danielle Stroud, Senior Director of Programs & Partnerships, took us on a tour of our 5 construction sites in Lake and Sumter County. Stay tuned for the virtual dedications!

Habitat presents local family with new home

Santiago-Lozada Family photo

After touring the home she and her family were presented Friday, Lorie Lozada said: “We have two beds and TVs but we need sofas and a dining table, things like that. But that’s OK, little by little we’ll get what we need. The house is the important thing.”

EUSTIS – Around this time last year, James Santiago, his wife Lorie Lozada and their now 8-year-old son Jianluc Santiago were pondering a move from Puerto Rico to Florida after losing their home and possessions to Hurricane Maria. They had no idea where they would be living or what was in store for them.

On Friday morning however, they received keys to their very own home in Eustis, built just for them by Habitat for Humanity and other organizations, including the Ohlsson Charitable Trust, the Women Builders and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, who all came together for the cause.

“We are emotional and so excited,” Lozada said. “We just feel so incredibly lucky,”

The family had first been living in a hotel, and then in a nearby apartment.

“It’s a beautiful house and I feel so happy and grateful,” Santiago said.

Friends and family of the recipients, volunteers and members of all the participating organizations were invited to a “Welcome Home” dedication ceremony in front of the 3-bedroom, 2-bath home on Friday morning.

Habitat’s CEO Kent Adcock said for him, helping the family was especially meaningful because his own parents were victims to the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and lost their home because of it.

“I know what they are feeling; what they are going through,” Adcock said at the dedication.

Through the building process, the house served to help many others along the way.

Lake Tech’s Laurie Bryant of the Women Builder’s “Hammer Knocker” team, said she was able to learn about what goes into building a home from scratch and found it very fulfilling.

Bryant and her team members on Friday, presented the family with a bible and a tool kit after they were presented with a flag by Ron Grove of the Sons of the American Revolution.

“I am honored that we were able to help build this house,” Bryant said.

Click here to read the full article and view a short clip by Roxanne Brown from the Daily Commercial

Trading Chaos for Craziness

before after now

“We looked out the window and watched our walls tumbling down our stairs,” says Lorie Lozada.

Lozada, originally from New York, watched in horror with her family as their house was torn apart in front of their eyes as Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, ravaged Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017.

“After my father passed away in ‘96, my mom moved back Puerto Rico to be closer to family” says Lozada. “When my mother had a heart attack three years later, my daughter Alexandra and I moved to Puerto Rico to take care of her.”

That’s where Lozada says she met her husband James. “By the time my mother passed away, I’d met James and we had a son, Jianluc.” So, rather than move back to New York when her mother passed, Lozado’s family built a life in Puerto Rico.  There they lived in a second story wooden addition, built above her mother-in-law’s concrete home.

“When the storm hit, we thought we were prepared,” says Lozada. “We had canned goods, gas, water, enough supplies for 8 or 9 days.” But the storm was much worse than they could have imagined.  “I’m from New York, I’d never seen anything like this, it was horrifying,” said Lozada who says she can remember the terrible noises coming from above as they hunkered down in her mother-in-law’s home.

Peering out during the storm, Lozada recalls seeing her refrigerator falling to the ground just outside of the window. “The wind picked the fridge back up, ripped it in two, and sent the doors flying in one direction and the rest flying in the other.” When the storm finally past, Lozada says their home was destroyed and, because her mother-in-law’s home sustained damage as well, they could not rebuild the second story addition. “One of the walls of our home was blown onto our car. We lost everything except for a few mementos and some clothing we had time to grab.”

“FEMA assessed the damage and our situation and offered us some help, including airfare to the United States.” As a territory of the U.S., citizens of Puerto Rico also have American Citizenship by birth so coming to the U.S., where both Lozada and her husband have family, was an option but it wasn’t an easy decision.

The couple’s son had grown close to Lozada’s daughter Alexandra, and her husband’s son Kevin, both of which chose to stay in Puerto Rico, making their decision to leave even harder.

“We sat down and prayed and prayed as a family,” says Lozada. “We’re big on our faith and we put everything in God’s hands.”

Rather than going back to her home state of New York, they chose to relocate to Florida where her husband has cousins and extended family. Lozada says the transition wasn’t easy but she’s incredibly grateful for all the organizations that have lent them a hand in their time of need, including Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

“After living in a hotel for a while, we eventually settled into an apartment in Eustis,” says Lozada. While they were looking for housing, one of James’ cousins encouraged the family to apply for help through Habitat. “Once we were contacted by Habitat, we still weren’t certain we be able to make it work. We really had to work with a lot of agencies to tie it all together.”  The Small Business Association, FEMA and help from Habitat Lake-Sumter all played a role in helping Lozada and her family qualify for a home through one of Habitat’s programs.

“It’s a pale green bungalow with orange shutters,” says Lozada. “When you see it in person, the colors work beautifully together.” And she’s seen the property often, living within walking distance now, Lozada passes by her future home on a daily basis and says it should be ready any day now.

Lacie Himes, Development Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, says construction on Lozada’s home began last spring and was made possible through the fundraising and volunteer hours of the organization’s Women Build program. Himes says the Inmate Construction Academy also played a significant role in completing the house, bringing together two of Habitat’s most successful programs to build a new home for Lozada and her family.

Two years ago, Lozada and her family were preparing for Hurricane Maria. This fall, they’re looking forward to a different kind of chaos.

“We’re hoping to be in our new home before Thanksgiving,” said Lozada who plans to start their own traditions, bringing together influences from both Puerto Rico and the United States. “We’re planning to share the holidays with lots of friends and family, bless the house with everyone in it and have a big, crazy Thanksgiving!”

By David Larrick

You’re invited to meet the Lozada’s and celebrate with them as we dedicate their home on Friday, November 22nd – Contact Shari for details and to RSVP: Shari@HabitatLS.org or (352) 483-0434 x 118

Veteran Story – Eddie Broglin

Eddie Broglin

November is a time to honor our Veterans and those who have sacrificed so much in service to our country. As part of our Veteran’s Housing Initiative, we serve veterans through our Home Ownership program and through Preservation and Repair. Here, you’ll get a chance to meet veteran, Eddie Broglin and learn what’s next for our Veterans in Lake and Sumter Counties.

Born and raised in Florida, Eddie Broglin is a true Florida Native. When speaking to Eddie about his home state, you can barely mention a new place before Eddie tells you his connection to that area; Lake Wales, Bartow, Lake City, Fort Pierce, it becomes apparent very quickly that Florida holds a special place in Eddie’s heart.

After graduating high school, Eddie Broglin was faced with the challenge of what he was going to do next. A fellow classmate told him that he was going to join the National Guard and convinced Eddie to sign up as well. Stationed at Wauchula, Florida where he worked with gunners and as a mess cook, Eddie then moved to the Naples Armory where he went on to serve an eight year career. While Eddie learned a lot from being in the service, he unfortunately suffered a heat stroke that would have a lasting impact on him the rest of his life. After his military career, Eddie moved around the state, and left feeling un-grounded while staying with friends or renting, he decided it was time to find a home of his own.

Eddie describes his experience of working with multiple real estate agents and exhausting his resources through Veterans Affairs, his search for a home appeared hopeless. “I was looking for a studio apartment, but mortgages and rent have flopped. Now it’s cheaper to pay a mortgage than to pay rent,” says Eddie. Eddie describes an experience that is relatable to many and sits at the very heart of Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s mission.

Eddie decided a “tiny home” would provide the best solution to affording a home of his own and started to search out of state, believing he would have to move from Florida in order to find affordable housing.

Finally, Eddie met real estate agent, Maureen Campbell. Maureen knew about Eddie’s desire to stay in Florida and his interest in “tiny homes.” With these two requests in mind, Maureen suggested Eddie look into Habitat for Humanity as a resource and facilitated the process for Eddie to apply to be a homeowner with Habitat Lake-Sumter. A cottage-style home currently being built in Coleman, Florida was THE home Eddie had been searching for.

While discussing his newly built home, it’s evident how grateful Eddie is to be able to be a part of the Habitat Lake-Sumter’s home ownership program; a home he believes is built with love by the staff and volunteers who have put “their heart in to it.”

“The first thing I did was plant my red maple tree,” a tree Eddie bought when he first learned of being accepted into Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s home ownership program, “to symbolize being rooted here,” says Eddie. In this quiet community in Coleman, FL, balanced by rural and growth; Eddie has found a place to plant his roots a little deeper into Florida.

If you’d like to know more about the work we’ve done with Veterans this year, come visit Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s booth at the Villagers for Veterans Film Festival on Wednesday, November 6th.

To support upcoming Veterans projects throughout Lake and Sumter, donate today!

Habitat Lake-Sumter’s 30th Anniversary: Is Home Out Of Reach?

Florida Out of Reach 2019 Infograph

Do you know that 2019 commemorates Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter’s 30th Anniversary?

Thirty years of providing access to affordable housing and removing barriers to opportunity, success, and health in partnership with YOU!

As we look forward to the exciting and unique projects being started this year; such as, The Cottages at Heritage Grove, a 23-unit community in Tavares, FL and the addition of the Leesburg High School to our Youth Construction Academy. We pause and reflect on how our affiliate has changed and grown, who we have served and how it has impacted where we live. In the midst of it all, we take an account of our cause- everyone deserves a decent, safe, and affordable place to call home.

Each year the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) releases an “Out of Reach” report documenting the Housing Wage (what an individual needs to be paid in order to afford housing in the area) and the Fair Market Rent (the standard cost of rent in the area).

Coincidentally, this year the NLIHC’s “Out of Reach” report also celebrates their 30th Anniversary and reflects how the housing market has changed in the past three decades. The “Out of Reach” report references the gap between wages people earn and the cost of living, specifically the cost of housing; arguably one of the biggest factors in the individual and families stability. HOME is a primary factor in safety, security, health, school and job performance; yet for many the cost of home has become too high.

Rents and homeownership costs are skyrocketing while wages are not keeping pace. Everyone should have enough money left over after paying rent or mortgage costs to cover life’s necessities. So what can we do to impact change, to make a difference for our family, our neighbors, and our community? We can be the advocates. It begins with knowledge, an understanding of how it affects you and where you live: Eustis, Tavares, Bushnell, Clermont, The Villages, and every pocket of Lake and Sumter Counties between.

“A recent national poll commissioned by NLIHC’s Opportunity Starts at Home campaign finds 85% of the public believes a safe, decent, affordable place to live should be a national priority (NHLIC, pg. 8).”

At Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter we believe it should be a local priority! Partner with us, join our Cost of Home campaign, read the NLIHC’s “Out of Reach” report and look for our How-To: Advocacy Guide in October. Together we can build homes, communities, and hope!


Photo Taken by Photos by Furey

Three newly built cottage-style homes in Coleman, including this one at 6702 Winkles St., will be dedicated Saturday by Habitat of Lake-Sumter before the keys are turned over to the new homeowners: Eddie Broglin, Kaylei and David Tranor, and Gennivieve Sprague.

“These are the first cottage-model homes we have ever built and dedicated; the first type of small trial homes,” says Danielle Stroud, director of development, for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, Florida.

She says the 2 bedroom/1 bath homes of about 700 square feet each were designed for smaller families entering the housing market or those seeking to downsize.

“There is a huge interest and need for more smaller, entry-level homes,” Danielle says. “And when you think about the trends in housing, bigger homes have gone by the wayside. A lot of folks cannot buy that big for their first-time home.”

Danielle says the three cottages in Coleman are half the size of the cottage-style houses Habitat built in Veterans Village in Umatilla.

Saturday’s dedication will feature a gathering of volunteers, sponsors, the homeowners’ loved-ones, along with local dignitaries, including Congressman Daniel Webster, a strong supporter of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. The congressman also spent time volunteering to build one of the houses being dedicated.

Click here for the full article written by Theresa Campbell, Lake & Sumter Style Magazine

Youth Construction Academy Program Sponsor: United Way

Youth Construction Academy Program 2019 Sponsor United Way of Lake & Sumter Counties

Jasmine Jacobs held tightly to her 6-year-old daughter’s hand as they walked up to their new home together. Awaiting their arrival were some of the people who helped her become a first-time homeowner, including 11 seniors from the construction management academy at The Villages High School. The young builders stood proudly outside the brand-new home on Winners Circle in Lady Lake as it glistened in the sunlight Friday morning.—Rachel Stuart, The Villages Daily Sun

As the first graduating class, the success of the partnership between the Villages Charter School and Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter was evident in the smiling faces of the new homeowner, students, teachers, and sponsors alike.

As the Youth Construction Academy expands to include Leesburg High School and over 70 new students; the success and growth of the Youth Construction Academy is due in no small part to United Way of Lake-Sumter. United Way has chosen Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter to receive an education grant in support of the Youth Construction Academy.

The Villages Charter High School students worked alongside industry professionals, instructors, and Habitat Construction Manager, Barry Martin, to build the house as part of their capstone project; construction began in August with the students building as their first period class.

“They were able to hone their construction skills and get a realistic feel for the business,” said Bruce Haberle, instructor of the construction management academy. “It’s a team-building experience where they were able to give back to those who are less fortunate.”

United Way’s mission is to “advance the common good by focusing on education, income and health,” Habitat of Lake-Sumter and United Way share in the belief that these three things are the “building blocks for a good life—a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income to support a family through retirement, and good health.”

Thanks to United Way of Lake-Sumter and their ongoing partnership with Habitat’s Youth Construction Academy, the graduating class will be the first of many students to gain experience, acquire employable skills, and engage in the social responsibility and community impact that shapes professional and personal development.

“It’s been amazing, and they’ve done a great job,” said Danielle Stroud, Senior Director of Development for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. “We really hope they learned something along the way, which is the purpose of this partnership.”

Check out some photos from the dedication on our Facebook Page!

VHS seniors build family’s first home

Swayde Farring, left, a senior at The Villages High School, hugs Jasmine Jacobs, center, of Lady Lake, as her daughter, Carmen, 6, stands by during the dedication of their new home Friday in Lady Lake. It’s the first home VHS students have built through the school’s construction management academy. -Bill Mitchell, Daily Sun

Swayde Farring, left, a senior at The Villages High School, hugs Jasmine Jacobs, center, of Lady Lake, as her daughter, Carmen, 6, stands by during the dedication of their new home Friday in Lady Lake. It’s the first home VHS students have built through the school’s construction management academy.
Bill Mitchell, Daily Sun

Jasmine Jacobs held tightly to her 6-year-old daughter’s hand as they walked up to their new home together. Awaiting their arrival were some of the people who helped her become a first-time homeowner, including 11 seniors from the construction management academy at The Villages High School. The young builders stood proudly outside the brand-new home on Winners Circle in Lady Lake as it glistened in the sunlight Friday morning. For the first time, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter partnered with The Villages Charter School to build the house. Construction started in August, with the students working several days a week until it was completed.

“They were able to hone their construction skills and get a realistic feel for the business,” said Bruce Haberle, instructor of the construction management academy. “It’s a team-building experience where they were able to give back to those who are less fortunate.”

Habitat for Humanity, a housing organization that works with communities across the nation, chooses its recipients through a first-come, first-qualified process.

Jacobs, a retail store manager, learned she had been selected after going through several steps for approval.

“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’ But now that we’re at the tail end of it, I’m just so excited.”

The families chosen by Habitat for Humanity are required to contribute 200 hours of sweat equity, which means they take part in the building process.

Jacobs helped by greeting and thanking volunteers and donors, and she also took financial-education courses, credit counseling and first-time homebuyer courses.

“I got to help do the outside, and I did some caulking, painting and flooring,” she said. “I had no idea what I was doing, but the kids from school were very nice and helped me out.”

She said she enjoyed working with the students because they brought some lively energy to the site.

“They were loud and funny, making jokes and blasting music,” she said. “They made it fun.”

This is the first home students have built through the academy, which launched last school year.

“It’s been amazing, and they’ve done a great job,” said Danielle Stroud, director of development for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. “We really hope they learned something along the way, which is the purpose of this partnership.”


Anita Books is No Stranger to Sweat Equity

If you are familiar with Habitat for Humanity you’re likely familiar with the term “Sweat Equity.” A simple phrase with a big meaning. Sweat equity is often used to describe the value someone adds to a project through the hard work they contribute to making it a success. For example, Habitat home owners contribute sweat equity by volunteering on a worksite, in the office, or through educational courses.

For Anita Brooks, the term “sweat equity” may have been new but the concept was far from foreign to her.  Ms. Brooks, as her students call her, is a third-grade teacher who earned her teaching degree while working for the school district. “I worked as a receptionist for 12 years,” said Anita. “And I put myself through school so I could become a teacher.”

It was a colleague of Anita’s at the school that first turned her on to the idea of partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build a home. Anita and her family had always been renters but had a unique opportunity to build on land deeded to her by her mother.  The two-and-half acre parcel was just minutes from their current home, in rural Oxford and the location played a part in the home Anita and her family chose to build.

“They gave us a few options in terms of models we could pick from,” said Anita. “Being in the country, I knew I wanted a porch.” Her daughter, 15-year-old Lailah suggested they go a four-bedroom model so Anita could use one of the rooms as an office. Anita agreed noting that she often brings work home with her no matter how much time she spends at school.

As her house begins to take shape, Anita says she stops by every day after school to see what has been accomplished and hopes that someone is still there working so she can express her gratitude. “I just want to thank everyone who has had a hand in building my home,” said Anita. Those working on her home often seem surprised by her gesture, but Anita feels it’s only right to express gratitude to those helping her accomplish something she couldn’t do on her own.

As a family that rented but never owned a home of their own, Anita says that her daughter is excited to finally have a room that she can do something with. “She likes to watch where her room is going to be. She’s enjoying the thought of picking out colors and making it her own,” said Anita.

The family plans to close on their home this summer and Anita says they’ll likely have a house warming party just to have family over. “I don’t need anything else, no more toasters or anything,” she said laughingly. “But we’re very family-orientated and this will be a great place to celebrate each other and the things we accomplish.”

Anita also wants her daughter and her older son Brandell, who’s 21 and no longer lives at home, to know that they finally have a home to come back to.

As for sweat equity in her new home, Anita says she’s ready to invest in the house she plans to make a home for her and her children. “I’ve been saving up my vacation days,” she says with enthusiasm. “I’m looking forward to helping out and getting my hands dirty!”

By David Larrick

C is for Comparing Budgets With an Affordable Habitat Home

In our last article we compared various hourly wages and what they could afford for rental housing based on the 2018 Fair Market Rent (FMR) per month. We learned that it took $18/hour, or $37,440 per year, for a person to afford the 2018 FMR of $840 for a one bedroom home.

But what if you wanted to buy a home?  On the traditional market, many of these same wages may face extreme difficulties in obtaining their own home and staying within the envelope of affordability.  That’s where affordable housing builders step in – organizations like Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter or Homes In Partnership exist to partner with families who are edged out of the traditional market.  These organizations offer opportunities to partner, allowing the financial entry point to homeownership to become more obtainable.

Let’s take a moment to look at a real life scenario – let’s meet Janice and Rose.  We’ve used her budget and income to compare her rental reality in a 2BR Fair Market rental prior to her obtaining a 2BR home built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.  Like all of the families who qualify for the Habitat program and are approved for their loan, Janice was able to get into a home with zero down payment, no closing costs, and a monthly mortgage that includes taxes and insurance that they can afford.  Now she and her daughter have a safe and secure place to call home.



$12/hour: Annual Gross Income $24,960: Monthly Gross Income $2,080


Janice moved from paying 48% of her gross income for her two bedroom rental (with a negative cash flow of $376) to owning her own home, paying just 23% for housing, with a positive cash flow each month. While these numbers are still based on gross take home, we can see the meaningful shift toward a more realistic budget.

What’s the impact on her health? Her outlook for a future? Her ability to withstand an unexpected expense?

* This number varies based on the qualified candidate, but is reflective of an average mortgage for a 2 BR home with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

Affordable housing is affordable not because it’s of lower quality or built to sub-standard codes.  It’s affordable because of the generosity of donors and volunteers who invest in the future of these families.  Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter works to build an affordable product, but also works to raise capital through relationships in the community in order to subsidize the homes for these families so they can be sold at a price that is affordable.

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter firmly believes in providing a pathway out of poverty.  According to The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development studies have shown that “homeowners accumulate wealth as the investment in their homes grow, enjoy better living conditions, are often more involved in their communities, and have children who tend on average to do better in school and are less likely to become involved with crime.”  Because of the stability and financial flexibility that an affordable home offers, higher graduation rates for children of homeowners is 19 percent higher than for renters, and they are twice as likely to acquire some post-secondary education, according to a study in a journal published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

As with many of our families we are looking forward to seeing Janice and her daughter Rose prosper – you never know who Rose will grow up to be, but we are happy to have had a part in providing her the opportunity to thrive.

By Lee Owen

C is for Clarifying the Calculation, Part II: Reality Check

C is for Clarifying the Calculation, Part II: Reality Check

In our last article we looked at the AMI, Area Median Income, and learned that the AMI for Lake County is $62,900 ($30.24/hour based on 40 hours/week, 52 paid weeks/year). Pop quiz: what does ‘median’ mean? It’s not the average; it means that half make more, half make less.

Median income drives the entire conversation on affordable housing. Pop quiz: What does the term ‘affordable housing’ mean? It means that no more than 30% of gross household income is spent on rent/utilities or, in the case of home ownership, PITI (principle, interest, taxes, and insurance). Why? Because everyone needs room in their budget to pay for other expenses.

Using the chart below, we see that someone earning the median income for Lake County would be able to afford the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for housing. What about those earning less than the median? Let’s walk through those numbers. The chart is based on the following details:

  • Florida’s 2019 minimum wage is $8.46
  • The Fair Market Rent (FMR) is from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) annual Out of Reach data for housing costs in zip code 32757 (at the site, click on the zip code for detailed information)
  • The 1 BR and 2 BR columns show the difference between the affordable, 30% housing number (what you’d ideally pay) and the actual Fair Market Rent
  • Income is pre-tax, based on 52 paid weeks/year at 40 hours/week, no overtime

How does paying more than 30% affect the rest of someone’s finances? Let’s look at three theoretical budgets for a single person renting a one bedroom home. We’re using percentage allocations commonly recommended by professional planners. Are you ready to see what those earning less than the median income are dealing with?

Read the rest of this entry »

C is for Clarity: Clarifying the Solution

Any conversation about affordable housing must begin with AMI, Area Median Income. In this article we’ll explore this term in more detail to make sure we’re all on the same page. In Part II, we’ll look at a sample budget to illustrate the impact of housing expense on various income levels. Ready to dive in?


By ‘Area,’ we mean the MSA, or Metropolitan Statistical Area. The MSA is quite useful. It captures all manner of data for a given geography so anyone—employer, government agency, job candidate, hospital, etc.—can compare apples and apples. (Or, since this is Florida, oranges to oranges.) For example, economic development groups, transportation analyses, labor market studies, and of course, the housing industry will all be working from the same information to write policy, design long-term plans, public works projects, and so on.

Here’s a great definition of the MSA from Investopedia.com: “Metropolitan statistical areas usually consist of a core city with a large population and its surrounding region, which may include several adjacent counties. The area defined by the MSA is typically marked by significant social and economic interaction. People living in outlying rural areas, for example, may commute considerable distances to work, shop, or attend social activities in the urban center.

There are almost 400 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States. In contrast to micropolitan statistical areas, which center on towns and smaller communities with populations below 10,000, metropolitan statistical areas must include a city with a population of at least 50,000.”

Our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate is covered by two MSA’s: Lake County is part of the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford MSA, while Sumter County is in The Villages’ MSA. The MSA data drives the income calculations for any affordable housing program.


‘Median’ isn’t the same thing as ‘average.’ Here’s how the Census Bureau defines it: “Median income is the amount which divides the income distribution into two equal groups, half having income above that amount, and half having income below that amount.” So, for your area (MSA) of interest, imagine lining up every household, from poorest to richest. The household in the exact middle would represent the median for that MSA—half make less, half make more.

In the very simple example below, the total household income for the area is $394,850. With just 7 homes, that means the average income is $56,407.  However, the median, or the point at which half make more, half make less, is $62,900.


One home at each income Total Income
$35,000 $43,000 $57,300 $62,900 $63,400 $65,750 $67,500 $394,850



And how is an area’s income figured out to begin with? It starts with the Census Bureau; each year they contact “over 3.5 million households

across the country to participate in the American Community Survey. When you respond to the survey, you are doing your part to ensure decisions about your community can be made using the best data available.” (Learn more about the ACS here). The ACS includes income data.

Once that data is available, HUD gets to work. They use the data to calculate the median income for each geographic area based on how strong the data is. If it’s deemed statistically reliable, they can run with that for the year; if it’s not statistically reliable, for whatever reason, they’ll work on a combination of surveys and formulas…and it gets complicated. To see the process in detail for Lake County, Florida, check out their calculation process here.

From this process, HUD announces the AMI for a given area. That number will then be used for different types of affordable housing programs (rentals and purchases) across the country. Our Habitat affiliate generally uses the USDA’s mortgage program for eligible home owners, so we use their AMI charts. The chart below is what Habitat would look at. (This data is extrapolated from the USDA’s site for 2018.) Remember, the median means half the residents earn less, half earn more.

If you’re fact-checking the calculations, you’ll see they don’t match up exactly. For example, using Lake County’s AMI, you’d do this: $62,900 x .50 = $31,450, whereas the USDA lists $31,950. These slight variations are likely due to USDA including non-wage sources of income in the household, such as child support, SSI, or alimony. The income numbers represent the maximum allowable to qualify for each category. Therefore, a Lake County household of 2 with an income of $31,900 would qualify for Very Low Income programs; however, if the income were $32,000, they’d be in the range for Low Income programs.


Lake County Number in the household
AMI: $62,900 1-4 5-8
50% AMI (Very Low Income)  $              31,950  $              42,200
80% AMI (Low Income)  $              51,100  $              67,450
Sumter County Number in the household
AMI: $68,200 1-4 5-8
50% AMI (Very Low)  $              33,400  $              44,100
80% AMI (Low)  $              53,450  $              70,550



Many myths abound regarding what ‘affordable’ means for housing and who qualifies for such programs. It’s no exaggeration to say that every legitimate program that strives to help people keep their housing cost affordable (paying no more than 30% of their income for housing) is using the same foundation: the AMI.

In our next installment, we’ll put a few sample budgets to the test. We’ll take various monthly incomes at different hourly wage rates, and we’ll allocate the money to expenses using generally-accepted financial advisor recommendations. In doing so, we’ll see what percent of the typical income goes to housing versus the recommended 30% figure. And we’ll be able to answer the question: at what income is housing affordable for Lake and Sumter Counties?


Your turn: How does your income, or that of your employees, compare to the AMI for Lake or Sumter counties? How do you think this affects the amount of money left, after housing is paid, to cover all other living expenses?  –> Respond to us on facebook with your thoughts to continue the conversation


Article By: Lee Owen, Habitat Volunteer

Meet the Gonzalez Family: A Home for the Holidays

The holidays are times when traditions are born, when gathering together holds more sentiment and when houses become homes. Whether your welcoming in generations of family and friends, or your traveling hundreds of miles to spend time with your loved ones, the phrase “Home for the Holidays” stirs emotions in all of us. However, for those dealing with the chaos caused by a sudden change in their living situation, the holidays are often accompanied by constant reminders that their sense of home has been washed away.

Surviving the utter destruction that swept through Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria was just the beginning of an arduous journey that led Yolanda and Osvaldo to Central Florida and ultimately to Habitat for Humanity. “The experience was horribly devastating,” says Yolanda. “We lost our electricity, we lost food and there was no water. A lot of lives were lost on the island.” In fact, nearly 3,000 deaths we’re caused by the hurricane.

With the help of a church located in the states, the couple fled their home in Puerto Rico, destined for Sanford, Florida, with only the belongings they could carry in two suitcases. After spending their first month in a hotel in Sanford, they were able to find an apartment in Casselberry. However, after their first year in the apartment, the rent was set to increase to a point that would challenge their means.

“I started searching in August for other options, rental opportunities, but none suited our economic abilities,” said Yolanda. “I turned on the news and an interview that mentioned a community being developed by Habitat for Humanity caught my attention.”

The community was Habitat for Humanity’s Veteran’s Village in Umatilla, Florida. Veteran’s Village is a collaborative project that provides access to affordable quality housing and holistic wraparound services through a partnership with Combat Veterans to Careers.

“There’s our House!” Yolanda remembers saying to her husband. What she didn’t remember was hearing any contact information. A week went by and, while in prayer and searching the internet, Yolanda found the information she was looking for and, after confirming her husband Osvaldo was a Veteran of the Vietnam war, they began the process.

The couple celebrated their first Christmas in their new home with their children who traveled to spend the holidays with them. “Our new home was full of joy, many emotions and gratitude,” said Yolanda. They also brought with them the tradition of “Three Kings Day,” a Latin-American celebration akin to the “Feast of the Epiphany,” along with songs from the island and traditional holiday cuisine.

“In Puerto Rico, everything is decorated with lights during the Christmas season and that’s exactly what we did here,” said Yolanda. “We decorated the outside of our house as well as the inside with our Christmas Tree.”

The couple says the warmth of their new community has contributed to them feeling at home. They’ve developed “marvelous friendships,” sharing meals and great conversations with their new neighbors.

Having a “home” again was more than just finding an affordable place to live for Yolanda as Osvaldo. “In this stage of our lives, my husband and I are enjoying the peace and tranquility which God has gifted us through our new house,” she said. “And a house becomes a home by the love that is shared in it.”

Academy Students Get Hands On

Affordable Housing Part 4: B is for Baloney: The Myth-ing Information Problem

Affordable Housing Part 4: B is for Baloney: The Myth-ing Information Problem

B is for Baloney: The Myth-ing Information Problem


What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when a young couple talks about finding affordable housing? What about when a politician talks about it? Or a non-profit?

Lots of myths and mis-information about affordable housing affect our understanding of it. Here are some of the highlights from a Community Housing Partners fact sheet, Affordable Housing Facts . (Similar sources are linked at the end of this article.)


  1. It’s ugly: In the past, this was probably true, but the laws have changed. Affordable housing has to fit the community character in size and style, and it has to meet the same building restrictions and design standards as market-rate housing. If government funding is involved, then construction might have even more restrictions or higher standards. What makes it ‘affordable’ is the financing of the construction and/or the mortgage.
  2. It increases crime: According the CHP fact sheet, “There is no correlation between safe, decent and affordable housing and crime. Studies show that what does cause crime (and a host of other socio-economic ills) is community disinvestment, overcrowding, and a lack of jobs and community services. Failure to build affordable housing leads to slum conditions of overcrowding, absentee owners and deteriorating properties with no alternatives available to low-income families…Careful screening, proper management, and security measures help assure that illegal activities do not take place and that, if they do, they are dealt with swiftly and decisively. Most affordable housing residents want nothing more than to become part of the quiet, peaceful life of the surrounding community. They have sought out affordable housing so that they can live independent, self-sufficient lives.”
  3. It isn’t an asset to the community: The opposite is true. Affordable housing “enables low-paid workers and others to avoid homelessness…avoid the need for public benefits…enables individuals to stabilize their lives so they can pursue jobs, access needed services, and deal effectively with any problems they may have…Availability of affordable housing enables the city to attract and to retain employers who require affordable housing for their lower level employees…also reduces the stress on other government-provided social services.”


Other sources note another common myth: “I don’t know anyone who needs affordable housing.” Actually, you probably know at least one and maybe even several. Let’s go back to the definition of ‘affordable,’ which is that no more than 30% of gross household income is spent on rent/utilities or, in the case of home ownership, PITI (principle, interest, taxes, and insurance).

Look at the chart below; if you’re earning $10 per hour, on a 40 hour week, a 4 week month, an affordable rent or mortgage situation would mean paying no more than $480 per month. This is at an annual income of $19,200.  Another way to look at this is to look at the monthly rent column; for example, it’s very common to see a 2 bedroom apartment renting for $1200+ per month. To keep that ‘affordable’ you’d have to be earning $48,000 per year.

Hourly Wage

Weekly gross income @ 40 hours Income working 4 weeks per month Affordable Monthly Housing Expense Annual Income required:





 $330  $1,320  $396




 $1,600  $480



 $600  $2,400  $720



 $1,000  $4,000  $1,200


 $30.00  $1,200  $4,800  $1,440



Any guesses as to a typical income in your company? Your church? Your community? Do you know what the median hourly wage is for your area? The median rent? Once we look at housing costs from the perspective of hourly or annual income, we learn a few things…and we’d be surprised at who we know or who we’re near who needs affordable housing options.

To better understand this way of looking at the issue, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) calculates what they call “The Housing Wage.” This number illustrates what hourly wage you’d have to earn to afford the typical rent based on where you live. For 2018, Florida has the 16th highest housing wage requirement in the entire country. Any guesses at to what you’d have to earn per hour to afford a typical 2 bedroom rental home in the state? Or if you’re earning minimum wage, how many hours you’d have to work each week to meet that ‘affordable’ number?  I double dog dare you to find out!

it's your turnYour turn: If you’re up for the double-dog dare, go to the NLIHC site and see what hourly wage is required to afford (pay less than 30% of household income) rent/PITI in various locations. You can even drill down by zip code.

We encourage you to talk about this with everyone you know. Why? Because there’s someone out there who needs this information…and feel free to send them our way if they’re looking for an affordable home to buy in Lake or Sumter Counties. Let’s get the word out about making housing affordable!

And don’t forget to share your discoveries with us on social media.

Facebook     Instagram     Twitter

Additional resources:

click here https://www.abodo.com/blog/heavy-housing-burden/

click here https://www.abodo.com/blog/renter-cost-burdens-by-generation/

click here http://www.shimberg.ufl.edu/publications/FL_2017_RMS_fact_sheet.pdf  (Florida specific info)

Affordable Housing Part 3: Affordable Housing Affects All of Us

Maybe you aren’t cost-burdened. You don’t have to decide between paying the light bill or buying food. And neither do your friends or neighbors. Maybe you’re thinking this whole issue of affordable housing doesn’t affect you.

Think again.

A 2014 report by Enterprise Community Partners (here) should make us all pause and reconsider. The lack of affordable housing has measurable impacts on families, communities, and society overall. The report on housing instability, including homelessness, presents their findings by major issues; below is an excerpt of just three of these issues we can all relate to:

• Education — Housing instability/homelessness (HI/H) jeopardizes children’s performance and success in school and contributes to long-lasting achievement gaps. The stress of HI/H makes learning difficult; in addition, it disrupts school attendance, lowering students’ overall academic performance. Long-term academic success is directly impacted by housing stability.

• Health — HI/H has serious negative impacts on the health of children and adults. Problems include asthma, being underweight, developmental delays, and increases the risk of depression, to name a few. Affordable housing provides stability, freeing up resources for nutritious food and health care.

• Neighborhood Quality — The report states that “A number of national and regional studies have found that investments in affordable housing produce benefits in the form of jobs, local income, sales, increased property values and property tax revenues…” and “…Numerous studies show that affordable housing has a neutral or positive effect on surrounding property values…”

Let’s bring this closer to home. In October 2017 the Orlando Sentinel published the results of a study done by the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida and Miami Homes for All, a South Florida nonprofit. The research focused on student homelessness; the Sentinel’s article (“Central Florida’s Homeless Students Top 14,000”) can be found here. According to the study, “…only 24 percent to 27 percent of homeless students passed assessment tests, while 40 percent to 48 percent of other students did.” They had higher rates of truancy and suspension, and “Even compared with students who live in poverty but are not homeless, the students whose families stay in shelters, cars, doubled up with another family or in extended-stay hotels fared significantly worse…” The Sentinel quotes Christina Savino, Orange County Public Schools senior administrator for homeless and migrant education: “…that lack of a stable home still really makes a difference.”

The lack of affordable, stable housing eventually ripples through all aspects of the local community and economy. While you might not be cost-burdened based on your income, your larger community, including the central Florida region as a whole, suffers when families are priced out of a stable place to call home.

Your turn: Contact a local food pantry, teacher, community police officer, or health clinic and discuss the issues they see related to housing instability/homelessness. For example, ask the food pantry how hunger affects their clients’ choices on other critical needs; ask a teacher how hunger affects a student’s classroom behavior and academic progress; ask a local police officer how the lack of affordable housing affects crime; ask a health clinic about the impact of delayed medical attention on children and families. Who else might you discuss the topic with? Share your experiences with us!

Affordable Housing Part 2: Affordable Alternatives

Affordable Housing Part I:  The A, B, Cs

A is Also for Affordable Alternatives

Housing burdened. That’s the diagnosis if you’re paying more than 30% of your household income in rent/utilities. If you’re paying 50% or more, then you’re extremely housing burdened, but you probably already knew that! Whether you’re renting or trying to buy a house, are there options for finding something that fits your budget?

The good news? Yes, many programs help with renting or buying, based on location, income, family size, and other criteria. Their goal is to keep you at/under that 30% benchmark. Habitat for Humanity Lake Sumter is one of them, though we’re a small non-profit rather than a government-funded agency. If you’re hoping to buy a home in Lake or Sumter County, FL, consider starting with us. Review our Home-Ownership Qualification Criteria here: http://habitatls.org/programs/apply/.

For more comprehensive options, explore what’s offered by the Federal government, as noted in the links below; we’re sharing content from these websites as well.

The bad news? Finding the right one takes a lot of time and effort, and there’s often a long waiting list to access these programs.

Renters: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the mothership of programs and information. Start here https://www.hud.gov/topics/rental_assistance and use their links:

  • Privately owned subsidized housing – HUD helps apartment owners offer reduced rents to low-income tenants. Search for an apartment and apply directly at the management office.
  • Public Housing – affordable apartments for low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. To apply, contact a public housing agency (PHA).
  • Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) – find your own place and use the voucher to pay for all or part of the rent. To apply, contact a public housing agency.
  • HUD Resource Locator – search for HUD field and regional offices, local PHAs, Multifamily and Public Housing locations, homeless coordinated entry system points of contacts, and USDA (Department of Agriculture), which focuses strictly on rural housing

Were you surprised to see the USDA listed? Their programs cover rentals, home purchases, and even repair grants. https://www.usda.gov/topics/rural/housing-assistance

Home Buying: Both HUD and the USDA are good sources for home buying information, guidelines, and financial input. Check these links to learn more:

Your turn: Find an affordable apartment for a) your elderly uncle (monthly income $960) or your cousin (a single mom with a pre-schooler, earning $15/hour working 40 hours/week). Rent + utilities cannot exceed 30% of the total monthly income. Using the resources above, find what programs are offered in your area; are they in a city or a rural area? What restrictions apply? Is there a wait list? How long? You have one week to find it…GO! Don’t forget to share what you learned in this process on our FB page, https://www.facebook.com/habitatls/

Affordable Housing Part 1: The A, B, C’s

A is for Affordable…

“Can we afford it?”

This is one of the first questions any renter or home buyer should be asking. But what, exactly, does ‘affordable’ mean? What’s affordable to you might not be to me. Is this just a philosophy about how to handle money or is this something more concrete and measurable?

It’s actually very straight-forward. The term ‘affordable housing’ means that the household spends no more than 30% of their total household income on rent plus utilities.


Because households need money left over to pay for things like food, transportation, and healthcare—known as non-discretionary spending (these are ‘needs’ not ‘wants’).

“Housing expenditures that exceed 30 percent of household income have historically been viewed as an indicator of a housing affordability problem. The conventional 30 percent of household income that a household can devote to housing costs before the household is said to be “burdened” evolved from the United States National Housing Act of 1937” (1).

The Housing Act created the nation’s public housing program to serve families with the very lowest incomes. Since then, a variety of definitions were used to establish what was considered ‘affordable’ for public housing rents. By 1981, the 30% benchmark was put into place and has remained the standard.

This benchmark eventually became part of the home-buying process when lenders began using it as part of their evaluation of a buyer’s ability to repay the loan, especially if the borrower had other debts to pay. However, in mortgage-lending land, “rent plus utilities” was replaced by the PITI factor: this is the combined total of the loan’s Principle, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance.  “Through the mid 1990s, underwriting standards reflected the lender’s perception of loan risk. That is, a household could afford to spend nearly 30 percent of income for servicing housing debt and another 12 percent to service consumer debt. Above these thresholds, a household could not afford the home” and the lender wouldn’t take the risk of the buyer defaulting (1).

This benchmark helps families and landlords or lenders objectively gauge the household’s ability to handle the financial burden of the monthly housing payment. Whether it’s a rental or a purchase, then, it’s a very helpful tool and one we’ll come back to later in this series. The big question now is: based on this definition of ‘affordable’ what are my options if I can’t find a place I can afford?

If that’s the case, then it’s time to look at the variety of programs in place to help make housing affordable, whether it’s a rental or a home purchase. We’ll look at some of those next time and also consider why affordable housing is important…not just for a family but also for the entire community.


Your turn: Calculate what percent of your household income is used to pay for your housing (rent + utilities, or mortgage PITI). Next, ask others you know to do the same. Consider asking employees, young singles or marrieds, etc. Discuss how your and their situations would look if 50% or more of your total household income went to pay for housing. What other expenses would be affected?


(1): https://www.census.gov/housing/census/publications/who-can-afford.pdf

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter builds homes for veterans, active military members

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter built affordable homes for veterans, active military called ‘Veterans Village.’ (Sarah Panko, staff)

UMATILLA, Fla. — Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter is done building homes in a Lake County neighborhood.

  • Habitat for Humanity builds homes for ‘Veterans Village’
  • Affordable homes meant for veterans, active military

The 13 affordable homes are for veterans, activity military and spouses of those who have served.

It’s called the Veterans Village and it’s located in Umatilla.

Shawn Unger moved into the development at the end of June.

“(I) wanted to get out of the apartment living and into a home. I do have two small children in the house, so a little more wholesome living than that of the apartment,” said Unger.

Unger says he went into the Air Force when he was 17 years old after graduating from high school.

“My parents had to give me permission to do so and sign a form, and then I reported to Lackland Air Force base in 1985,” he said.

Unger’s house is one of 13 Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter started building in 2016.

Click here for the full article!

Unger Family

Through his time in the United States Air Force and his various career tracks post-service, Shawn Unger has travelled across most of the North American continent. Born and raised in West Virginia, Shawn enlisted right after graduating high school in 1985 and spent a full year in Mississippi learning to be a radar technician. He was initially slated to head to Europe for his duty station, but it was then changed last minute to South Dakota.

Once he left the Air Force, he began working for SAIC, a major IT support company, and transitioned from there to Sprint where he worked up to a position as Network Service Manager for the AOL account. After a talk with his father one day at a NASCAR race, he decided to try out the trucking world, and drove big rigs all over the US and Canada; his last employer, out of Tampa, is what led him to make Florida his home.

He left the trucking industry to work for the Department of Homeland Security for a short while before returning to an IT position with Convergys in Lake Mary, Florida. He now lives with his two young sons, Phoenix and Caleb, while his eldest son Timmy lives in New Hampshire. Shawn is looking forward to his wedding later this year to his fiancée, Rowena, who is from the Philippines.

Hometown Hero

We knew when we built the Veterans Village that we would meet some people with remarkable backgrounds and unique experiences. After all, serving in the military is essentially a guarantee of at least a few good stories. However, among all of our homeowners in the Veterans Village, none stand out as defiantly and inspirational as Ike Fretz. Our most recent resident to move into the Village, Ike’s history of service is impressive, but it’s what he’s done – and continues to do – post-service that really galvanizes the warrior spirit.

Ike served in the United States Army from 1989 through 1994 and was on active duty for Desert Storm. During that conflict, he sustained an injury while working as part of a two-man evacuation team. His actions earned him several commendations but they also left him permanently injured and wheelchair-bound. It was several years into his recovery and adaptation process that a recreational therapist introduced him to adaptive sports, and it was the beginning of a brand new outlook.

Since then, Ike has won multiple gold medals in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games events, including power lifting, basketball, bowling, and hand-cycling, which he took to the extreme with a Washington-State-to-Washington-DC cycle in 2012. Ike says that when he competes in these games, he does so to honor other veterans that he holds dear, whether living or passed, and uses his actions in spite of adversities to inspire other veterans to keep fighting.

Because of his profound story, dedication, and impact, an anonymous donor took note of Ike’s placement into a Veterans Village home and decided to pay off Ike’s mortgage, in full, as a way of honoring how he served our country and continues to serve other veterans. We were able to surprise Ike and his caretaker, Sherrie, with the news on May 23, and have an opportunity for the donor to meet Ike and thank him in person. It was a truly moving experience and added yet another momentous chapter to Ike’s already extraordinary story.

The Reason to Give

A Beginning and an End

On April 14th, Habitat of Lake-Sumter was proud to dedicate three new homes and officially welcome the Homrich, Dyhr, and Mabry families to the Veterans Village!  The families were honored for their hard work and dedication through the completion of the Home ownership program, and were celebrated on beginning the first chapter of their new journey.  This event came as the perfect ending to a season of generosity in our community, as local donors alongside RoMac-Lumber & Supply raised money in support of the community through the March Match campaign.

The Veterans Housing Initiative has always been a special cause to Don Magruder, CEO of RoMac, and his pledge to match donations, dollar for dollar, inspired donors to give generously… doubling their investment in affordable housing. This year, the match ran through the month of March, and because of the community’s generosity and dedication to the mission, the campaign met and exceeded the goal of $10,000!

Our Community Partner

As one of our long-standing partners, RoMac Lumber & Supply has been a huge contributor to our mission and has enabled us to continue reaching the community across Lake and Sumter county. RoMac has been a staple of Lake County for over 70 years and has expanded to serve much of the Southeast United States. Whether it’s wood, trusses, doors, or otherwise, RoMac has remained a steady supplier of quality materials and service for central Florida and beyond.

Our Homeowners, The Reason to Give

In attendance to greet and celebrate our three Veteran families were 20 community members. The joint home dedication, gave an opportunity for food, fellowship, and viewing of the families homes.  Each homeowner has their own story to tell, but here is little bit about each family:

  • Greg Homrich served in the United States Marine Corps, Army, and National Guard, and is still serving his community as a dispatcher for the Leesburg Police Department.  Upon getting to know Greg, you will quickly find out that he is most excited about becoming a member of this unique community, having already built relationships with many of his neighbors.
  • Beth Dyhr, is the spouse of her late husband who proudly served in the United States Marine Corps.  As Beth’s first home as a single women, she is thrilled to start a new chapter in her life and instill her own passionate, vibrant spirit into the home.
  • Kathleen Mabry was a member of the United States Army, and her ability to define strength through adversity left a mark on our staff.  She is proud to be a new homeowner, and shared that the opportunity is most special because it offers a safe and secure home for her to raise her 10-year old grandson.

About the Community

The Veterans Housing Initiative led us to develop the Veterans Village in Umatilla, Florida, where veterans and their families enjoy safe, affordable housing built in a small neighborhood that focuses on relationships. Our ability to meet the needs of our local veterans is due to the compassion and generosity of our community and through partners like RoMac. We also teamed up with Combat Veterans to Careers to offer extra services to the residents – things like healthcare, transportation, and help navigating the Veterans Affairs system, to name a few. This ensures that we’re providing not just a house but a community network of support, which for many veterans is crucial for the stability they seek.

As a community-based and community-focused organization, it’s always inspiring to see how much can be done on a local scale. Your consistent support, whether it’s financial or volunteering or both, never ceases to amaze us, and we thank you so much for it! We’re looking ahead eagerly to the next big project and can’t wait to bring you along for it.


Habitat Homeowner Corner

Upcoming Home Dedication:

You’re invited to join us in welcoming our newest Habitat Homeowner, Jessica, to her home!

When:  Saturday, January 20 from 9AM – 10AM

RSVP:  352-483-0434 Ext. 118;  shari@habitatls.org

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Why We Build…Curtis Walter’s Story

Curtis was one of the first Homeowners we served through our Veterans Housing Initiative.  His story is moving, and continually reminds us of the importance of a safe home.

Sponsor of The Month!

This year marks the 30th year of Bank of America’s long-standing partnership with Habitat for Humanity in our shared goal to connect working families to affordable housing in order to build thriving communities.

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Sponsor of the Month: Wells Fargo

September 2017 sponsor of the month wells fargo

Thank you Wells Fargo and The Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, along with local bank employees for rallying around the Veterans Village!  On September 9th, local employees will be onsite volunteering at the Veterans Village, working on homes that Wells Fargo and The Wells Fargo Housing Foundation helped fund.  We couldn’t do it without you!  Thank you for helping our Veterans build strength, stability, and self reliance through shelter.


Wells Fargo support thousands of national and community-based nonprofits annually to help revitalize and strengthen communities. They are among the top corporate cash donors among U.S. companies, donating $281.3 million to 14,900 nonprofits in 2016 to support financial education, community development, affordable housing, education, disaster relief, clean technology, job training, environmental education, and other critical social, economic, and environmental challenges around the world.

Wells Fargo and the Wells Fargo Foundation provide monetary support, expertise, and volunteers to national and local nonprofit organizations and causes that align with our business priorities, values, business expertise, and geographies. They focus philanthropic activities on creating long-term, strategic relationships with nonprofits and other organizations to create innovative, sustainable solutions to meet local needs. Their team members help make an even bigger impact through their passion, time, and expertise.

Veterans Village Photo Tour

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From The Lundy’s Perspective: A Habitat Home Investment

Lundy Family

Noah and Carol Lundy began their journey with Habitat in January 2012. After being engaged in volunteer work and participating in financial classes with Habitat, they purchased a 3-bedroom, 2 bath home in Eustis with a private fenced yard, which was just what they needed since gaining custody in 2011 of their two nieces, Ariel and Tapanga.

They later adopted the girls in March 2013.

“One of the most exciting things about buying the home from Habitat was like putting money in the bank, so to speak, due to the payments being low enough,” Noah says. “We paid more each month, thus increasing the equity, which was exciting itself!”

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Habitat for Humanity honors Central Florida veterans with their own “village”


Vets Village Open for Visitors

vets village open for visitors

Over the past few years women of the Villages Decorating Club have supported local Habitat families and our mission of providing affordable housing. Typically the club sponsors homes in The Villages area, but excited at a chance to give back to the Veteran community they donated $4,000 to provide new microwaves for each of the Veterans Village homes.  In gratitude of their gift, and to show off the newly installed microwaves, Habitat for Humanity invited the club for a sight-seeing tour of the Veterans Villages neighborhood.

On a very hot and busy day at the Village, two buses filled to the brim with over 90 women arrived to see the community first hand – the first of many tours coming to the Veterans Village this year. After a short introduction by Danielle Stroud, the club members were able to walk through all 6 veterans’ houses and ask questions about the project.

The tours proved to be a fun, educational, and successful event and Habitat is hopeful that the tours to follow will be just as successful. This November Habitat plans to provide free tours to donors and volunteers, as well as the general public to see the grounds and available homes.

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Low Income Housing Does Not Harm Property Values, Study Shows

low income housing newsletter

Low income housing units have no effect on nearby property values, according to a new study by real estate company Trulia. The finding comes at a time when there are some concerns around affordable housing through Florida.

Some of the most common concerns around affordable housing construction are tied to home values. But this study reaffirms a body of research that undermines those fears. And it works to counteract the so-called NIMBY mindset, meaning ‘not in my backyard’. A proposed tiny house development in Fort Braden was met with similar concerns earlier this year. Florida Housing Coalition President Jaimie Ross says too many picture slums when they hear the word affordable.

“Today’s affordable housing is built by the private sector, using the tax credit program predominantly. It’s beautiful housing, it looks just like market rate housing, meaning housing that’s not affordable. Has all the same outward finishes, beautiful design,” Ross said. Read the rest of this entry »

Video of Vonhold Home Dedication


Thanks to Lang Film Co. who made this production possible!

First home christened in Veterans Village in Umatilla


UMATILLA — Reed and Michele Vonhold stood in the kitchen of their soon-to-be new home in Umatilla on Monday and were already planning family get-togethers.

“Thanksgiving at our house this year now that I have my own, and big enough, kitchen,” Michele Vonhold excitedly announced to her son, father and brothers.

The Vonholds then walked through the rest of the house, talking about the placement of furniture and decorations.

“This is a dream come true,” Reed said.

Read Full Story Here

Sponsor of the Month: Rotary Club

june sponsor of the month

Over the next few months Rotary Clubs from Lake and Sumter county will pull together to donate over $12,000 towards affordable housing.  The Wildwood Rotary club is supporting our new home we are building in Wildwood, Florida for the Jackson family and the Villages Evening, Villages Noon, Leesburg Evening, and Leesburg Noon clubs will be supporting one of the next four homes being built at the Veterans Village in Umatilla, Florida.  As sponsors of these homes, Rotarians from all over will join together to roll up their sleeves and support our Habitat homeowners.  Below are a few photos from the first work day, with many more to come.  THANK YOU ROTARY!!

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Veterans Village: A Project Update


What’s Next?

  • In June we will be dedicating the homes for our first set of homeowners and celebrating them!  We hope you can join us.
  • In late June we will be laying the foundation for the next four homes.
  • We will be finalizing the Master Plan and all the floors plans by our last round of building in December.

Interested in coming out for a tour?

Give Danielle a call 352-630-3318

Want to come out and volunteer?

Give Carlos a call 352-483-0434 Ext 119

National Women Build Week 2017

women build week newsletter

What is Women Build?

2017 marks Habitat’s 10th Annual National Women Build Week – a time that invites women to help make a difference and devote at least one day to help build decent and affordable housing in their local communities.

On May 9th-13th women from all over Lake and Sumter Counties will come together at our Wildwood New Home Construction Site to join an expected 17,000 women, including Lowe’s Heroes volunteers, across the country as part of Habitat’s 2017 National Women Build Week.

Lowe’s helped launch National Women Build Week in 2008 to empower women to advocate for affordable housing and spotlight the homeownership challenges faced by many. Each year, Lowe’s provides the support of their employee volunteers, Lowe’s Heroes, and conducts how-to clinics at stores to teach volunteers construction skills so they can feel equipped to take part in the builds.

How to get involved…

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Habitat of Lake-Sumter in Search of Veteran Home Owners


Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, Florida is in search of qualified Veteran home owners interested in living in the Veterans Village community in Umatilla, FL.

Read the full article here!

Home Is Where The Heart Is


Habitat of Lake-Sumter is so grateful to have been a recipient of this year’s award through Publix Super Market Charities.  The generosity of Publix will fund over 25 preservation and repair projects throughout Lake and Sumter Counties this year.

Over the years, Publix associates have generously volunteered to assist with building homes. Recently, the Publix Serves initiative has helped associates devote time to making a difference, and many have spent Publix Serves Day performing tasks such as painting, carpentry, and landscaping in order to support local affiliates in their communities.

Click Here to Learn More

The house that love built


For two young boys and their mother, today’s warmest Christmas gift has been simmering for months.

It started with a chance encounter.

It fostered because of a community that cares, including a club of Villagers who have made compassionate acts a habit and a hometown bank full of employees willing to help anyone, but soon realizing it was someone they knew well.

Click here for full article!

Habitat for Humanity home helps family of 4 in Eustis


A Lake County mom and her three children will finally have a home for the holidays.

  • 3rd new home in Lake County built by Habitat for Humanity
  • Home in Eustis went to mother of three
  • Next home dedication will be in Lady Lake

Click here for full article.

Habitat To Celebrate Completion Of Family Home In Eustis



On Thursday, December 15th at 8:00am, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter will be hosting a ceremony to celebrate the completion the Eisinger Family’s new home in Eustis. The celebration will be an opportunity to view the finished home, meet the Eisinger family, and enjoy light refreshments and good company. Habitat welcomes the public to attend the ceremony – To RSVP or for more details please call Shari Kuck at shari@habitatls.org or at 352-483- 0434 Ext 118.

Click here for the full article.

Charity begins at home


Habitat for Humanity of Lake Sumter has helped families in need of safe and decent housing achieve the American dream since 1989, and now the organization is in the early stages of building Veterans Village and is looking into the future. Constructing a community of micro homes—affordable housing for seniors and millennials—just may be on the horizon.

Read the full article here!


A Place To Call Home


The familiar adage “birds of a feather flock together” works well when referring to how people with similar experiences find a true bond when they’re together.

For many veterans, including those recently returned stateside, that proverb often helps facilitate a successful re-integration into civilian life and may be a key part of the soldier’s survival. Veterans will tell you there’s something validating and comforting about talking to other men and women who have been there and done that. These peers understand what it was like to face daily threats and understand the lasting impact of witnessing unspeakable acts of cruelty. A fellow veteran will also understand those memories trigger recurring bouts of past-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Chance conversation with bank teller culminates in Habitat for Humanity project


Amanda Strickler and her two sons are especially looking forward to Christmas this year.  Construction on her new Habitat for Humanity home started Thursday morning and everyone hopes she will be celebrating Christmas in her home. The home in the Skyline subdivision of Lady Lake is the seventh Habitat Humanity Lake-Sumter home to be built in that area.

Citizen’s First Bank is the corporate sponsor for this home which includes providing many volunteer hours through its employees.  After a brief dedication ceremony, the volunteers got right to work taking advantage of the time before it gets too hot to work.

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Habitat to keep building in Lake due to impact-fee plan


Tension between Lake County government and Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter has subsided after county officials agreed to use state funds to cover impact fees for nonprofits building affordable housing.

The nonprofit previously announced it would build homes exclusively in Sumter County to dodge more than $10,000 in impact fees on single-family homes in Lake. The fees are used to help defray costs associated with growth such as new schools, roads and parks.

Prohibited by law from outright waiving the fees, officials unanimously approved of a plan this week to set aside State Housing Initiative Program funds to cover the cost of impact-fee waivers for nonprofits building single and multifamily homes.

Kent Adcock, Habitat’s president and chief operating executive, was pleased with the plan and happy to continue building in the county.

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County pumps up affordable housing efforts with infusion of money


TAVARES – Lake County commissioners on Tuesday  unanimously approved changes to the county’s affordable housing program that will use state funding to pay impact fees for low-cost housing programs like Habitat for Humanity.

In addition, the board increased its overall affordable housing budget by 5 percent, or $195,907, for homeless rehousing. That money would pay costs to get homeless people into rental housing.

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Habitat makes changes to build more homes

Habitat makes changes to build more homes

BUSHNELL — Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter recently announced plans to make better use of donor money and better serve those in need of homes.

The Habitat board has plans to move future new home construction to Sumter County, where impact fees are significantly less than Lake County, which is where most of its new construction has been in the past.

And Habitat moved the proposed Veterans Village from Leesburg to the Cottages at Waters Edge, a 14-lot development in Umatilla, where the impact fees already had been paid by the developer.

“Both moves provide a better use of money donated by area residents,” said Danielle Stroud, director of development for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

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New Construction moves to Sumter County

lake county article

LEESBURG — High impact fees in the county have made it impossible for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter to continue building new homes in Lake in the coming years for those in need of affordable housing, officials say.

As a result, the Habitat’s board of directors made a decision to move all of its new construction to Sumter County after it completes the estimated 15 homes it has scheduled to be built in Lake in the next 18 to 24 months.

“It goes back to the fact that the impact fees in Lake County are more than 20 percent of the cost of an affordable house,” said Kent Adcock, Habitat’s president and chief executive officer. “So when you factor 20 percent of the cost of the house, it does not include the cost of the land. You may be talking 30 to 40 percent of the cost of the house is not even in the construction of the house. This calculation disproportionately affects the working poor who desperately need an affordable place to live.”

Adcock said the organization is building homes for two families: one in Sumter County for an individual who has a disabled son to care for, and another in Lake County for a government worker whose family is unable to all live under the same roof because of high rental costs.

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Veterans Village Relocates to Umatilla

Aerial Cottages at Waters Edge2

After a considerable period of due diligence, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter has decided to relocate its Veterans Village from Leesburg, FL to Umatilla, FL due to unsustainable project development costs for Workforce Housing for Veterans.

Habitat CEO Kent Adcock reported that a combination of increased development costs, combined with Impact Fees, have forced the affiliate to cut the size of the veteran’s project from 22 houses to 14, and to locate it to a site it has purchased in Umatilla.

Habitat has executed a purchase of The Cottages at Waters Edge, a 14 lot development in Umatilla. The main reason for the relocation is due to the high costs of infrastructure and development. Adcock says the value for the Umatilla site is considerable as it offers ‘ready to build’ lots that have pre-paid impact fees which, when combined with other development costs, amount to a total project savings of over $20,000 per house. In order to be a good steward with donor and sponsor dollars, the affiliate has elected to decrease the Villages size while at the same time reducing the cost per unit. An added benefit will be the ability to have a Veterans Park & Gardens on Lake Enola located in the Village Subdivision.

CEO Adcock praises the City of Leesburg staff and City Commission for their overwhelming support for the project. “We could not have asked for better community partners from the city of Leesburg, but in the final analysis the development costs were simply ‘outside the envelope of affordability’. We regret that Leesburg will not be the site for our project, but we want everyone to know that the Veterans Village Project will go forward on the new site in Umatilla.”

Habitat will kick off construction of the Veterans Village at The Cottages at Waters Edge on November 5th with a special community groundbreaking event at the site on Highway 19. A Bob Hope impersonator, along with the LC Swing Band will re-enact the old Bob Hope USA Show in a free community performance sponsored by Your HomeTown Habitat. Part of the event will include raising the wall on the very first home in the veteran’s village.

Related Articles:  Veterans Village Relocating to Umatilla – Daily Commercial

To learn more contact Danielle Stroud at danielle@habitatls.org.



Wells Fargo Team Members Help Build Home


On Sept. 19, 14 employees from various branches of Wells Fargo Bank throughout the county rolled up their sleeves and started work on a new Habitat home for a family in Fruitland Park. Soon to be homeowners, Lovely and Jethro came out to greet and thank the volunteers as well as work alongside them.

To kick off the work day, Lake-Sumter District Manager of Wells Fargo Bryan Cornell presented a check for $10,000 on behalf of the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation to assist in funding the home.

“We couldn’t be more excited to have Wells Fargo as a sponsor of this home. Without committed volunteers and community partners such as Wells we wouldn’t be able to achieve our mission of providing affordable housing,” said Kent Adcock, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, Florida.

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