Heather and Josh Buffington stood outside their new home Thursday, Jan. 14, as people honked and waved from their vehicles during Habitat for Humanity of Hall County’s first dedication parade.
“We feel very blessed to have the support of everyone,” Heather said as a line of cars drove by.
The Buffingtons’ residence, located in the Copper Glen community of Gainesville, is the first Habitat home to be completed in Hall County during the pandemic. Instead of holding the nonprofit’s traditional ceremony, which entails gathering in a large group, the organization opted for a safer, drive-by alternative.
“Normally we’re all in the house,” Alison McElvery, Hall Habitat’s executive director, said. “We have to adapt. This is a very special day.”
Mary Lou Lock, longtime Habitat volunteer, said the pandemic halted the construction of the Buffingtons’ home by several months. However, she said the nonprofit later allowed a small group of six people called, “the faithful few,” to don their masks and help complete the project.
“The faithful few, we definitely got to know and appreciate them,” Heather said. “They were a big reason our house got as far as it did.”
Walking into their new home with their two elementary-aged children, Jaylen and Isaac, the Buffingtons said they felt a rush of happiness and that a weight had been lifted off them.
Before moving into the Copper Glen community, Heather said they had been living in a rundown apartment in an “unsafe area.”
Despite both having full-time jobs, the Buffingtons said they were having trouble affording rent.
Heather has been working as a certified medical assistant for Lanier Village Estates, a retirement community in Hall, for the past five years. And for nearly three years, Josh has served as a bus driver for Hall County Schools.
“Our rent goes up just about every year,” Heather said. “We were paying for something that was never going to be ours. This home) will be ours.”
Like everyone who earns a home through Habitat, the Buffingtons had to put in “sweat equity.” This required hours of work on their home, taking financial literacy classes, building a neighbor’s house and volunteering at Habitat’s ReStore.
McElvery said some of those who earn a home through Habitat struggle with the sweat equity side of the process. But, the Buffingtons were able to put in the manual labor while raising two kids and working full-time jobs.
“There was just a drive about both of them that was endearing,” McElvery said.
When the Buffingtons turned in their application for the home, the executive director said she couldn’t help but notice a determined spark in them.
“The first day I met Heather, she came into the conference room,” McElvery said. “When we hand them a packet, a lot of people you don’t see come back. She (Heather) came back the very next week with it filled out. Her and Josh and the kids all came in. You knew this was a determined family.”
When asked what they’re looking forward to most with their new home, Heather said, “decorating” and Josh replied, “yard work.”
“We’ve definitely been through hard times,” Heather said. “We’re excited and want to thank everybody that had a hand, the volunteers, the sponsors — everyone.”