Most families aim to build success and raise their standard of living so their children can have better lives. But, this isn’t feasible for everyone without help. Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and the Construction Management Academy of The Villages High School work together to give some of these families a boost when it comes to their homes, a measure of success for many families. Habitat and the academy recently completed a yearlong project to build a home for the Brooks family and handed over the keys to their new home Wednesday.
To Amanda Brooks, a working, single parent whose family received the house, the students’ drive and efforts were impressive and something for which she always will be grateful.
“The students are amazing,” she said. “I know they don’t realize it but they have completely changed my life.”
After years of trying to obtain a home, Brooks and her daughter, Emilee, received the keys to their new home with tears of joy. Brooks applied to the program at The Villages Charter School and, through a selection process, was chosen out of the top five applicants.
“I remember exactly where I was when I received the call from Habitat,” Brooks said. “I was at work, and I took the call and I wanted to jump up and down and cry in excitement.”
She said she then contacted everyone that knew she had applied.
“My family is so proud of the woman, mother, daughter I’ve become,” she said. “They can’t wait to come visit my new home.”
Brooks has spent the year keeping herself steady at work and volunteering over 200 hours of “sweat equity” for Habitat for Humanity.
The construction students even planned a surprise for Emilee: a bright pink playhouse for her to enjoy in her new backyard. Art students lent their artistic abilities to add characters from Disney movies to the decor. Emilee smiled as she ducked through the door labeled “Emilee’s Playhouse.”
Habitat for Humanity
Danielle Stroud, incoming CEO of Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, attended the event and coordinated the ceremony. Stroud has worked alongside the Brooks family on this project to ensure they have an affordable home.
“When you have a place you can afford, and not worrying about where you’re going to rest your head, you can make those decisions for the future of your life,” she said
Since 1989, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, a nonprofit organization, has created affordable housing projects throughout Lake and Sumter counties to create better quality of life and standards of living for families in need.
Last year alone, $389,187 was spent on Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter youth construction projects.
“If you meet the requirements, apply,” Brooks recommended. “This program is amazing. If you don’t need help from them, then volunteer. They are always looking for people to help on projects.”
Youth Construction of VHS
The Construction Management Academy has been building homes and learning the trade under the guidance of Bruce Haberle for three years, completing one house each year.
Nine seniors and 17 juniors are members of the academy, and eight of them were involved in the Brooks family project throughout this year. Haberle went down the line of students who participated and extolled their accomplishments and personalities during Wednesday’s key-giving ceremony.
Senior Abigail Stewart, the second girl to attend the academy, said she plans to go into the workforce after graduation because “I wanna get my hands dirty.”
“It was a wonderful experience all around,” Abigail said. “We met a lot of great people out here from all of the different trades.”
Senior Brock Esorrey, who Haberle noted was a close second-in-command during this year’s project, said he plans to enter straight into contracting after high school, contemplating several construction companies and their offers.
“The best part about building this house (was) connecting with everyone in this class,” Brock said. “Coming out here every day, getting to know everyone a little better, and just the bond we created.”
According to Haberle, the students were involved in “everything” that was a part of the construction, including carpeting, interior trim, electrical and plumbing.
VHS Principal Rob Grant was among the attendees for the ceremony, and he said he looks forward to the continued progress and offerings students obtain through the construction academy. Grant said the community has a need for good construction workers and the academy is pushing hard for students interested in technical training and skills to learn it in school and then “go straight into the workforce and making a good living.”
The Future of Development
The efforts of the Habitat for Humanity program are essential to add more for housing to the community. With or without assistance, prospective homebuyers of working, middle-class families currently have little to choose from. As of Wednesday, there were only six single-family homes listed for sale in the $100,000 to $200,000 price range that are not age-restricted, according to a review of a multiple listing service. Neighboring Fruitland Park only had four more on the market in that same price range.
The cities border Sumter County, where strong demand is snatching up what’s available. On Wednesday, 17 of 35 listed homes in that same price range already had pending offers, leaving only 18 available in one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.
Although a 2018 Sumter County study focused on multifamily housing analysis, it clearly stated residential development, targeting market-rate and workforce housing, is essential as the county’s job base grows. However, homebuilders contemplating whether to build in Sumter now must weigh in a 75% increase in the county’s road impact fee, slated to go into effect June 28, that would add to costs or make the home more expensive.
If Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a legislative bill on his desk, it would retroactively remove and prevent steep impact fee increases across the state and undo the work of three new Sumter County commissioners, who rejected an offer by The Villages to spare family housing outside The Villages from their desired increase.
In the meantime, families like the Brookses are looking forward to spending their first holidays, birthdays and other special occasions in their new home.
“This has been a long journey, and I’m ready for my next adventure,” Brooks said.
Staff writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or email@example.com. Managing Editor Curt Hills contributed to this report.