Elaine Sargent: Homeownership Help from Habitat

6 years ago, in 2007, it was me standing here as a new partner family with big emotions and great big anticipation.  At the time I kept telling everyone I felt like I had won the lottery.  I can tell you that without Habitat I would still be paying rent.  I was humbled by the support and encouragement I received from the habitat staff – every single person I came in contact with treated me as part of their team, as an asset to their community.

It was the first year of “Lend a Hand before the Jam” – a full week – and I was blown away by the volunteers.  Locals, people who came to Christmas Jam for years from faraway places.  People who were giving of their time and making the world a better place for people like me, someone they had never met before.

I was humbled by the generosity of a man and a woman I had never met before who had a vision, Warren Haynes and his wife Stefani.  The fact that the guy happens to be a pretty amazing musician and a rock star added a layer of spectacular.  I get the feeling their hearts and vision are bigger than this world, and it is obvious that his heart is still here in his hometown of Asheville.

I want each of you to know that you have had an incredible impact on my life, my kids’ lives, their perspective of the world, and every Habitat owner in this community.

We moved to Asheville from the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina. We had only been living there about 2 years before the storm hit the gulf coast.  While living in Louisiana I checked out volunteering with Habitat.  At the time I was a stay at home mom, my husband worked a lot, it wasn’t good timing for me to be a jobsite volunteer.  I visited the Habitat jobsite in Slidell, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and watched the volunteers working. I think Good Morning America was there with cameras. It was so inspiring.  Strangers working to make a difference in the lives of people they had never met before.  After the storm we decided that we wanted to move to an area that didn’t experience hurricanes.  The kids and I moved into a two bedroom apartment, expecting it to be a short term/6 month situation until their dad found a job here – he was still employed on the gulf coast.  After a few months, for complicated reasons, I found myself a single parent in that East Asheville 2 bedroom apartment with two kids, a boy and a girl, 6 years apart in age sharing a bedroom.  No yard for them to play in, and not enough income to find another option.  I found that the local pay scale did not reflect the local cost of housing.   Having never completed a college degree, it was immediately obvious that supporting myself and two kids was going to be complicated as well.  I never thought of myself as a potential Habitat recipient.  That was for “other people”, not me. I was previously an average middle income stay at home mom who found herself in unexpected circumstances.

It took a little over a year from start to finish – but when the day came to sign the papers for the mortgage on a home of my own –MY own home that I helped build –  it WAS like I won the lottery.

Over the past five years and thanks to Habitat homeownership, a lot has changed in our lives. Because my mortgage payment is WAY less than my rent had been, by about $300/month – if you multiply that saving by 5 years – it’s an $18,000 difference – it’s a whole lot.  The cool thing about being a habitat home owner is that every month my mortgage payment helps other people, like me, who have found themselves in unexpected circumstance – make a new start.  Being a Habitat home owner has helped me to save some for the future, including higher education. This past 5 years we have been able to do a lot of things we might not have been able to do without Habitat.

Shortly after moving into our home – on Dec 23 of 2008 – my kids’ dad was killed in a car accident.  This brought multiple layers of new challenges for us.  But, owning a Habitat home buffered us again with this devastating loss.  We were safe and secure in our home, a safe space – the worry of making a payment for housing minimized.  You just never know when you step out there as a volunteer, having some fun for a few hours, the cushion you are creating for a couple of kids and their mom.  You may never know the impact you are having – moment by moment, day by day – let me tell you, you are making a difference.

Braces and dance classes for my daughter, a more fuel efficient car, helping my son’s buy his first car…

The thing is I think of Habitat and Warren Haynes and the volunteers so often – I think of all the little things that you have made possible in my life – and all the big things too.

As of today – just a couple hours ago – I am proud to say that I have completed my Associates degree in Computer Drafting at AB-Tech.  This last semester has been made possible for me because I am a Habitat homeowner.  I was the very grateful recipient this semester of the Habitat scholarship made possible by the Maher family – again brought to my knees in gratitude by the kindness of strangers – people investing in the future of this community and in me.

My dream is to design a few fabulous houses for Habitat.

Jazlyn was a first grader when we purchased our home with Habitat, she is now 13 and a thriving 7th grader at Evergreen Community Charter School.   My son Tazdyn is a freshman at WCU this year.

Homeownership  creates stability, pride, community, space for your kids to invite their friends to, a place to make memories, barbecues with friends, a safe haven during times of challenge, holidays – so many things – tangible and intangible.

What an inspiration – being a part of Christmas Jam, pay it forward – it is an inspiration not only to me but to all the kids that have been part of this amazing adventure –

Another proud mom moment was hearing my son say “I signed up with Habitat out on campus mom….I am going to volunteer with Habitat” – he got it.

Some of you have heard me say this before – but Warren Haynes gathered a couple of people who had a vision, a passion, a dream.  A few musicians that got together to make some good in this great big world in a little town, a little bar in Asheville, NC .  That first $1400 or so donation has grown to way over a million dollars.  Lives are being changed – paths are shifted by Habitat for Humanity and Christmas Jam.  One family at a time.

I kept telling everyone I felt like I had won the lottery – and that is how I still feel today.

As a past Christmas Jam family who knows just how incredible this opportunity is, you have no idea the places this will take you.


Take Action

Asheville’s City Council has prioritized affordable housing in its strategic plan. In this year’s budget, Council has allocated $1 Million to go towards affordable housing initiatives in Asheville. We applaud Council’s commitment and encourage them to continue to work towards the recommendation to increase their affordable housing trust fund to $1.1 Million. Click here to send a letter to support City Council and the Housing Trust Fund.


This post was submitted from Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity as a part of the story collection from the Success Equation, an initiative that unites community to reduce and prevent poverty so all children can thrive. Partners include the Cathedral of All Souls, Girl Scouts Peak to Piedmont, InnovoGraph LLC, Junior League of Asheville, Just Economics, Innovative Partners International, Searchlight Consulting, Smart Start of Buncombe County, Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation, and YWCA. To find out more go to find out more, go to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.