CAMBRIDGE — “Me and Mommy are going to trim the tree and sing!” Nine-year-old Ramyia Askins and her mother, Yevette Askins, are starting new Christmas traditions in their home, the first “Ecumenical Build” in Dorchester County. Seventeen local churches joined a cooperative effort with Habitat Choptank to raise the money and build the three bedroom house on Edgewood Avenue in Cambridge. Their ideal deadline, “get them in by Christmas,” was met with time to spare. It is a tribute to the generosity and skills of the builders, and the dedication of the new homeowner too.
Yevette wept at the dedication. “It was hard. I was writing a speech for the dedication because I knew I had to say a few words,” she said. “I told my sister how hard it was because I wasn’t really writing my feelings, She said I should just speak from my heart so that’s what I did. I talked about the family pressures,the economical side, but I shared my feelings and I cried. It was fine. I am not a victim, I am a survivor.”
Habitat doesn’t give houses away; the program is set up to help a family own a home and become part of a continuous chain of families-to-come by paying off the interest-free mortgage provided by Habitat. Homeowners are chosen after they complete applications and meet the stiff requirements to protect the buyer and Habitat. It took Yevette two and a half years to get out of debt, save $4,500 for settlement money, and put in 300 hours of sweat equity in the build of her home. She accomplished this while she worked at Chesapeake Woods in Cambridge, took the required classes in home maintenance, and raised her young daughter.
The timing was tough for her because her utility bills in her old house were enormous, in the worst winter she could remember. But she and her “pink tims” (pink Timberland boots) showed up on site to help build and meet her 300 hours.
Habitat also requires classes on home ownership and maintenance. Ramyia, the 9-year–old, does her share as she dances around the house floors, making muddy footprints disappear. “I lo-oo-ve it” she says of the steam cleaner, which is better than a toy. She loves having her own room, a place to do homework, and being able to play music in the larger space.
“I wanted something better for my little girl,” Yevette said. “My mother, who died after I came into the Habitat program, did not get to see this great ending. But she did make me promise that I would provide a better life for Ramiya. I am keeping that promise.”
Ramyia and her family are not alone in their feelings of satisfaction. Pastor Bob White of Christ Church points out that the 17 churches that helped build this house provided $96,000 for construction with fundraisers, from pig roasts to pies. Volunteers lent both veteran skills and newly-acquired ones, and they prayed. The pastor says their willingness to work together gave them a feeling of community that will last beyond this job. Pastor White explained that he’s used to telling people what they should do, and having to follow directions on the job himself was a different experience.
Chuck Webber, a longtime Habitat director, from St. Paul’s Church, was a driving force in getting the ecumenical build in place, and he used his nail-driving skills to teach Yevette about putting up walls. She gained great respect for the volunteers like Wayne Towers, who painted the interior, and she will not put nails into “Wayne’s walls” (she’ll use sticky holders to hang pictures).
The good feelings and the ecumenical connection do not end here. Pastor White believes there are other areas of community work where the different churches can again join together to do God’s work.
To the Askins family, the move is more than just a new house for Christmas. Both Ramar and Yevette like to say, “We have come a long way, though we have moved just a few blocks.”Special to Dorchester Banner/Jill Jasuta Crowds of well-wishers create a cheery atmosphere at the dedication of the Askins’ new house last month.[/caption]