From Heart to Hammer

FPC Members Dedicated to Housing Impact

Twenty-four years; thirty-four Habitat houses; one important mission: to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ through affordable housing.

Amidst the challenges that come with construction, nobody will claim it’s an easy task. Especially during the early days of fall, when high temperatures continue to linger, the effort required can be demanding. But those difficulties swiftly fade into the background when you see the beaming faces of a new homeowner and their child. Or when you see the structure begin to look like a home. Or when you have the camaraderie of friends with whom you have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in house-building for years. Or in that moment of warmth when a first-time homeowner looks into your eyes and says, “Thank you.”

In April, two First Presbyterian members received recognition for their commitment to this mission. The prestigious Governor’s Volunteer Service Award honors those who have shown significant concern and compassion for their neighbors. Habitat for Humanity nominated Brenda Suits and Marwen McDowell for their care, compassion, and dedication to the affordable housing cause in Mecklenburg County.

“Receiving the award was a total shock to both of us,” Brenda admitted. “We don’t do this for the recognition.”

Brenda began volunteering with Habitat shortly after the “Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Project” built 14 homes in Charlotte in 1987. While she didn’t work on that particular project, it ignited a spark within her that continues to this day. “I got very excited about Habitat and the mission of Habitat. Every day after work, I’d drive by the Carter Project, and I’d walk around the outside looking at the progress made. I thought, as soon as I have an opportunity, I’m going to get involved.”

That same year, she started a team at the bank she works for. That team has worked at least one Saturday a month for over three decades, building two full houses in Charlotte each year. Not only does Brenda lead the bank’s builds, but she is also active in FPC’s builds, which is how she and Marwen met.

“Unlike Brenda, I’ve never picked up a hammer. I will paint, I will clean, I will wash windows. But I don’t hammer because I’m just not good at it,” Marwen, who serves as First Presbyterian’s Habitat for Humanity coordinator, joked. She also serves as the liaison between Habitat and the Charlotte Church Partners, a group of churches that work together on the home builds. “I wear two hats,” she explained. In other words, she does a little of everything – from organizing the build and recruiting volunteers to helping on the job site and keeping drinks iced. “I said I’d retire after our 20th year, but I just can’t leave. I love all the people involved: the partners, the Habitat staff, and the homeowners – it just doesn’t get any better than the homeowners.”

Thirty-three of 34 original homeowners still live in homes built by FPC and the Charlotte Church Partners, and Marwen remembers many of them. “I went to renew my driver’s license in July. When it was my turn, I was called to an open window. Immediately I hear, ‘You built my house!’ It was our 2016 homeowner. We hugged, and we cried, and I asked her about her kids and the house.”

This fall, volunteers from First Presbyterian will work on our 35th and 36th houses, but this year’s build will look a little different than years past. In October, The Carter Project will return to Charlotte to begin building 27 homes on a historical piece of land near the airport. In November, FPC and the Charlotte Church Partners will work to finish two of those builds. At completion, the land donated to Habitat by the City of Charlotte will be Habitat’s largest housing development to date, and it’s just around the corner from Westerly Hills Academy in the 28208 zip code.

First Presbyterian needs volunteers to work on our two homes this fall. “You can volunteer for one day or ten,” Marwen says, “but once someone comes out one time, they almost always say, ‘Oh, I’ll be back!’”

Twenty-four years, 34 families, and countless volunteers later, the love of Christ resonates through the architecture of compassion, dedication, and community. We’ve got the hammers; now we need more hearts.

For more information and to volunteer, visit our Local Outreach page.

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