Habitat gives homeowner a new foundation

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 08:54 PM

Retired pastor Joe Harvard was walking with his wife, Carlisle, last summer when he made a surprise announcement: His 50th wedding anniversary gift to her would be a house.

It wouldn’t be for them, however. Instead, it would be a Habitat for Humanity house for someone in need.

Fast forward to Saturday, when Harvard and others gathered at the site that 43-year-old Susan Mowery of Durham will call home in a few months.

The vintage house at 2010 Ashe St. in Northeast Central Durham is in rough shape, with foundation work and much more that needs to be done before she can move in. But Mowery has a vision of what it will become.

“It’s just a diamond in the rough,” she said before a noon ceremony blessing the start of rehabilitation efforts. “It’s going to be beautiful.”

Mowery’s life has undergone rehabilitation, too. She’s a recovering drug abuser who’s been clean for years thanks to TROSA, a residential recovery program in Durham where Mowery now works.

“My life has been a wild ride, but I finally got straightened out,” she said.

Mowery, who will make interest-free mortgage payments on her house, said she’s grateful to the Harvards and Habitat for making homeownership possible for the first time in her life.

Harvard nearly choked up as he stood beside Mowery at the ceremony.

“Susan is one top-flight woman,” he said. “She’s what this is all about – rebuilding lives. The process of rehabbing, remaking, innovating, revitalizing is the work that God calls all of us to be part of. And that’s what we’re engaged in together.”

Carlisle Harvard was too filled with tears of joy to speak to the crowd. But in an interview, she said her husband’s plan to financially support the rehab effort in her honor came out of the blue.

“Joe and I were taking a walk and all of a sudden, he said: ‘I’ve got a great idea! I want to be partially responsible for building a house for Habitat to honor you, because you’ve done a fabulous job building our home.’ Of course, that’s not true. We built our home together, along with our children. And we hit the jackpot.”

Blake Strayhorn, executive director of Durham Habitat, said the Ashe Street project is part of an effort to address poverty in Northeast Central Durham and preserve houses with rich histories.

“A lot of the folks who bought these homes worked at Golden Belt [textile mill] back in the day, and this was a very thriving community in the 1930s and ’40s,” he said. “Many of these homes have such great bones, and we want to preserve the historic nature of the neighborhood, to honor the past and the future.”

Rehab efforts are expected to begin later this month and be completed in four to five months.

“It will be an energy-efficient home that won’t have high bills or a lot of rot,” Strayhorn said.

Harvard hopes the house will be ready Aug. 17 - his 51st wedding anniversary.

“It’s a challenge, but I think there’s something special about taking a house that’s already here and rehabbing it,” he said. “I’ve come to realize there’s a real symbol there. All of us go through reformation and rehabilitation, and often, we’re stronger and better for it.”

To donate, mail a check to Habitat for Humanity of Durham at 215 N. Church St., Durham, NC 27701 or visit website www.durhamhabitat.org