Neighbors helping neighbors

St. John Neumann Parish participates in Habitat for Humanity building project

By Gabrielle Nolan

People say home is where the heart is, and a lot of heart went into a Habitat for Humanity build co-sponsored by St. John Neumann Parish in Farragut.

The project, which involved about 10 parish volunteers, benefits an Army veteran and his wife.

Parishioner Laurel Howanitz initiated the project for the parish.

“I am just all about using your talents that God has given you,” Mrs. Howanitz said. “I just felt like this was something that I could bring to the parish. … Habitat was such a great organization, and I just really felt like it would be a win-win for both.”

“Watching other people volunteer and build this house, it’s just priceless,” she added.

Mrs. Howanitz, who lives in Tennessee and Virginia, has a home in Farragut that is walking distance from St. John Neumann Church.

“We have moved so many times. … This is the second time we’ve been back in Knoxville,” she explained. “I love everything about St. John Neumann.”

Habitat for Humanity volunteers from St. John Neumann Parish place an exterior wall for a house under construction in Knoxville’s Carter community.

‘A perfect marriage’

Once back in Tennessee, a friend of Mrs. Howanitz asked her in 2018 if she was interested in being on the board for Knoxville’s Habitat for Humanity. “So, I got involved in Habitat and I soon realized that … Habitat was the most well-oiled machine with the best volunteers, the best purpose.”

Participating in multiple Habitat builds, she watched various churches be involved each year.

“I kept thinking, ‘Oh there’s no Catholic church, or there’s no Catholic diocese, or there’s no Catholic presence.’ … I would watch these other churches get involved, and they would be so joyous,” she noted.

“I know it sounds corny, but I would watch their volunteers come out and do this Habitat project, and … they would see the changes that it would make in people’s lives,” she continued.

Mrs. Howanitz said it was “a natural progression on how the two ideas came together.”

“It’s a perfect marriage because my other love is getting Catholics to feel good about being Catholic and getting involved,” she said.

“It’s great for our parish to have a really good project where they can give back, and maybe it’ll create teamwork and unity and all that kind of good stuff. That was really the whole driving force behind it,” she added.

“There’s a number of things we do, like all the parishes, to serve the community,” said Patrick Wade, director of development for St. John Neumann Church and School. “So, this was obviously a great one … a unique one in that it wasn’t something that we regularly do.”

The makings of a Habitat home

Multiple organizations work together on a house build to form what is called a covenant partnership.

“We all share in the funds that need to be raised and contributed and the volunteer labor,” Mr. Wade said.

From left, mortgage bankers Edna Price and Jennifer Green join Patrick Wade of St. John Neumann Parish; homeowners Bridget and Robert; and Father Joe Reed, pastor of St. John Neumann, outside of the newly built home.

A Habitat home can range from $150,000 to $175,000, but a covenant partnership is responsible for funding $55,000 of that cost.

“That does help cover a large part of the construction costs,” said April Timko, director of marketing and communications for Knoxville Habitat for Humanity. “St. John Neumann is one of four covenant partners on the particular house” that was built.

“The covenant partnership helps by providing the volunteers to be out on the build site and build the house itself, along with the future homeowner,” she continued.

The first day of building, called blitz day, begins with a concrete slab and ends with all exterior walls in place. Volunteers contribute to a variety of tasks, such as building exterior walls, mounting roofing and siding, painting, and installing cabinets and trim work. Specifically trained volunteers take care of electrical work, and subcontractors put in flooring.

Potential homeowners apply through Habitat for Humanity to be selected for a home build.

“Once they are accepted into the program, they invest hundreds of hours of sweat equity,” Ms. Timko said. “That’s through taking classes in our home-ownership education program.”

“They also get sweat equity through building their home, as well, and volunteering on other people’s houses,” she continued. “Once they have built their home and they move in, they purchase that house with an affordable 30-year mortgage.”

Army veteran and new homeowner Robert earns some sweat equity working on his new Habitat for Humanity house.

A unique neighborhood

Typically, a Habitat build consists of one single-family home. However, the St. John Neumann house is part of a larger Habitat neighborhood, called Ellen’s Glen.

“This neighborhood is located in East Knox County in the Carter community,” Ms. Timko said. “Ultimately, it will be home to 35 families. It consists of three-, four-, and five-bedroom homes with one-car garages.”

“Ellen is actually the Knoxville Habitat for Humanity founder,” Ms. Timko said. “We started doing work in that neighborhood in getting it developed and everything around 2020, which was our 35th anniversary. It’s been really cool to say that we’ve been building 35 homes to celebrate 35 years.”

On one of the build days, Mrs. Howanitz had the opportunity to meet with some of the future homeowners, who also volunteer in the home-building process.

“I ended up talking to all the different people and all the different homeowners that were out there, just about how they felt,” Mrs. Howanitz said. “What came across was the fact that they’re going to be able to help each other. They’ll be able to babysit for each other, or if they have questions about other things, that they’re all going to be there right together. So, it’s such a great idea.”

“It’s building strength and stability with families that are right here working hard in our communities. … It’s building generations,” Ms. Timko pointed out.

The dedication date for the completed home was Jan. 21, when the family received the keys to their new home. Father Joe Reed, pastor of St. John Neumann Parish, led prayer for those in attendance.

“It was a real privilege for our parish to participate in building this home,” Father Reed said. “The fact that the home is for an Army veteran and his wife made the experience even more meaningful. St. John Neumann once said, ‘As Christ has His work, we, too, have ours; as He rejoiced to do His work, we must rejoice in ours also.’ Helping build this home was more than joyful work; it was a reflection of our faith and an opportunity to build up the kingdom of God, as we are called to do.”

Interested parishes can easily become involved with Habitat for Humanity at any time.

“All they have to do is reach out to us,” Ms. Timko said. “There are so many opportunities that there’s going to be a fit no matter what they’re able to do physically or monetarily.”

“I do encourage anyone in the Catholic community to get involved,” she continued. “We have so many people from the different parishes that are volunteering as individuals. I think it would just be amazing to see more people come out in groups and really all get to experience the amazing, life-changing experience it is.”

For more information, visit the Knoxville Habitat for Humanity website at knoxvillehabitat.com.

Comments 2

  1. I am looking for an article in an earlier East TN Catholic newspaper about the group of nuns that will relocating here from Italy.

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