Building hope one square foot at a time

feature_Square-Foot-05We’ve all seen donation jars near cash registers at stores and restaurants. For one Griffin mother, this grassroots effort helped her to realize a dream of living in a home that accommodated the special needs of her daughter who has cerebral palsy.

After seeing a collection jar at a Jonesboro office building, a local florist referred the family to Square Foot Ministry (SFM). In early 2009, SFM partnered with several churches to build a new wheelchair accessible home for single mother Tenesha and sixteen-year-old Brandy, both living with physical challenges.

“Most of our referrals are made through word of mouth. A neighbor or a friend calls us,” says Beth Barron, an interior designer and board member of SFM. “An elderly woman needed help getting her old refrigerator out of her house. When two of our volunteers showed up at her door, she offered to pay them for their time. When she was told ‘No ma’am,’ she made a small donation to SFM instead,” continues Barron.

Stories like this are abundant at Square Foot Ministry, a non-profit organization that provides homes and home repairs for people in and around Fayette County. The organization was founded on the belief that “99 percent of what we do for God is accomplished by helping to provide for other people.” While many of SFM volunteers have worked with Habitat for Humanity, the diverse group is comprised of builders, contractors, business executives, suppliers, clergy, church members and civic-minded individuals.

About eleven years ago, several Fayette County churches were building Habitat homes in Riverdale and Griffin, but needed funds to complete the project. One worker suggested they sell square feet in each house to raise money for the project. And so Square Foot Ministry was born.

“Craig Wiley, Dave Clark and I had worked on a number of Habitat homes,” says Doug Higgins, co-founder of Square Foot Ministry. “We saw a great need within our own community and felt compelled to make a deeper commitment to provide homes for people in need.”

feature_Square-Foot-01Completely run by volunteers, all funds raised go toward the materials of the home-building project and SFM holds a no-interest-bearing mortgage on the home. In addition to building houses from the ground up, SFM tackles smaller home repairs like insulating a house for an elderly resident or building a wheelchair ramp for an individual with a physical disability.

“We are blessed to have a talented group of volunteers who give their time to make these homes a reality,” says Higgins. “Since starting SFM, the mission and goals have grown. We’ve expanded our vision.”

Recently, Square Foot Ministry and McIntosh Trail Community Service Board partnered to build a new Fayette County Counseling Center, which provides a wide range of mental health services for the region’s children, adolescents and adults.

“Last year, the center served more than 600 individuals, providing therapy, nursing services and community support. Square Foot has worked tirelessly to recruit donations of time, material and labor from the community to help make this dream a reality,” says Pam McCollum, Executive Director of McIntosh Trail Community Service Board.

On February 14, 2009, nearly 300 volunteers started assembling the new counseling center in the parking lot of Lowe’s, an in-kind donor of siding, paint and lumber. Additionally, the Georgia Utility Contractors Association contributed manpower and heavy equipment to prepare the property on Bradley Drive, which was donated by Fayette County.

feataure_Square-Foot-04Square Foot Ministry anticipates completing the 3,800 square foot facility by the end of the year. Currently, volunteers are needed to “adopt a space” within the counseling center.

“We are still looking for help in adding the final touches to the center. This could be a great opportunity for a new interior designer to gain visibility within the community, while helping with a great cause. You can also attend a fundraising event or make a tax-deductible gift as well,” says Barron.

One such fundraising event is the 2009 Tour of Homes, sponsored by Fayetteville First United Methodist Church. Held on December 5 and 6 this year, proceeds from the tour will benefit the completion of the new Fayette Counseling Center. (For more information about the tour, please call 770 461-4313.)

“We support Square Foot Ministry because their work is so critical to Fayette County,” says Sammie Clark, a member of the event’s planning committee. “Not only do these tours help to highlight the work of Square Foot Ministry, but they help to build awareness of the community’s greatest needs.”

As if constructing one home or business at a time wasn’t enough, SFM has launched 10-10-10, a ten-year collaboration with the City of Griffin and Habitat for Humanity to rebuild and remodel 10 houses in an underserved Griffin neighborhood. Started in October, this public/private partnership will help to strengthen one block of homes by providing adequate housing, safer living conditions and an improved quality of life.

“City officials are embracing the idea,” says Doug Higgins, “There is an immediate need to revitalize some Griffin neighborhoods, which are among metro Atlanta’s poorest areas.”

Square Foot Ministry’s projects require the combined efforts of many volunteers. Built on a foundation of faith and a “one square foot at a time” approach to building dreams, the group exemplifies the difference that one individual can make—whether they pick up the phone or pick up a hammer. For more information, visit www.squarefootministry.com.

Lynn Parsons

Lynn Parsons is a freelance writer who lives in Fayetteville with her husband and two children. She helps nonprofit organizations to share their stories, communicate their achievements and build their cases for support. Within the corporate world, she writes articles, web content, white papers and organizes newsletters. You can reach her at Lynn@lynnwrites.com

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