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Girls Play House. Women Build Them.



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By Gay Lyons || Photography by Britt Cole

Women are the core of Knoxville Habitat for Humanity’s annual Women Build. Its motto: Girls Play House. Women Build Them.

At the recent 2018 Women Build dedication event, new homeowner Deonna Evans, who cares for two adult daughters with special needs and a teenage son while also working three jobs, received her keys and became an official homeowner.

Among those present for the dedication were WBIR Channel 10’s Abby Ham, Women Build Honorary Chair, and the highest fundraising team, “Stop! It’s Hammertime.” Those team members, Jessie Buttram, Susan Iglehart, Betsy Castleberry and Georgette Suggs, were presented the Diamond Hammer Award for their efforts.

Team leader Jessie Buttram said, “I got involved after Angie Sledge with Habitat spoke at my church right before the Women Build kicked off two years ago. I loved every detail of it: strong women financially and literally raising this home together, all for a hand-picked woman beating the cycle of poverty. I came up with the [team name] because I am a child of the '80s with a deep appreciation and nostalgia for MC Hammer lyrics.”

“One of the biggest challenges for me was showing up in the first place,” she continued. “I felt like I was mostly going to be in the way, and I've always cowered at the thought of asking anyone for anything, much less money. But I showed up; people taught me what I need to know to not be in the way; my own clumsy hands were very much needed to nail roof decking, raise trusses, plumb walls and hang siding; and my friends and family were so inspired by these Habitat stories that all they were waiting for was to be asked how to contribute.”

Team member Betsy Castleberry said, “My husband and I became involved financially a few years ago, mainly because of two people: Bob Temple, who has given so much of himself to Habitat in Knoxville, and my dad Lee Iglehart, who is on the board and really has a heart for this ministry. I started learning more about Habitat and how they give a hand up, not a hand out. I learned how the future homeowners take classes and are really invested in their future and learning how to build, not just a house, but a home for their family. When I heard about the Women's Build, I was in.

“It’s amazing how many people are willing to give to Habitat because it is all about empowering people. Really, all I had to do was ask, and people gave money.”

“Actually working on site was empowering for me,” she continued. “Who knew I could put up roof trusses or nail on the roofing? It was a great feeling, working right alongside the homeowners, knowing that I was helping build their home. It was a great experience being on the team with my mom, Susan Iglehart, working together making memories that will last a lifetime.”

Georgette Suggs, another team member, said, “It’s always hard work but being with a group of folks who are there for a great reason makes the day fly by. I especially loved working with a bunch of women. On top of it all, I learned some skills that could come in handy.”

Knoxville Habitat, an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, has built more than 560 homes in Knox County. Volunteers and future homeowners provide the labor in building the homes, while tax-deductible donations of money, land and materials are provided by individuals, organizations and corporations.

Families are very much invested in the process of buying their new homes, and they pay mortgages like anyone with a traditional home loan. In addition to their mortgage, each family must contribute 500 hours of sweat equity as a down payment before they can move in. Most of the hours are spent in classes learning how to budget and become a responsible homeowner.

The first Knoxville Habitat for Humanity Women Build house was completed in 1996. Junior League of Knoxville sponsored the first home. The Knoxville Women Build event then took place every other year until 2016, when it then became the annual event it is now.

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