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Habitats Home for a Hero dedicates house to veteran, mother of 3
Family donated land after previous house was lost in fire
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Charmaine Smith stands in front of her new house Saturday before the Home for a Hero dedication to the Smith family in Flowery Branch. This is the first home Habitat for Humanity has built specifically for a veteran. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Charmaine Smith stood in the driveway of her newly constructed home in Flowery Branch and felt “very overwhelmed.”

“It’s very beautiful,” Smith said. “I just look at it and it’s just like ‘Wow, this is mine.’ I would’ve never imagined that it would actually come to reality, especially like this.”

The house was constructed by volunteers in just 104 days, as part of Habitat for Humanity of Hall County’s “Home for a Hero” project.

The first of its kind, ”Home for a Hero” saw dozens of Habitat volunteers build a home specifically for a military veteran who was struggling in poverty housing.

Smith, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran and single mother of three, learned her family had been selected as the new tenants for the home Oct. 17.

Scores of fellow veterans, community members and neighbors flooded the property Saturday morning to join in the home’s dedication.

“This will be the biggest dedication we’ve ever had,” Ann Nixon, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Hall County.

Nixon praised the efforts of volunteers and other charitable organizations in the community, noting that one of the first individuals to arrive at the dedication brought $300 worth of groceries to fill the Smiths’ pantry.

The Johnson High School Band performed “The Star Spangled Banner” in the driveway of the home while everyone looked on, including first responders from the Hall County Fire Department and EMS who came to honor the Hunter family.

The Hunters donated the land to Habitat for Humanity after a catastrophic fire destroyed their old home on the property. According to Kristine Hunter, it was her husband James’ idea to donate the land not two days after the fire devastated their home. To stipulate that the new home must go to a veteran was an easy decision.

“Who is more deserving than a veteran?” Kristine Hunter said.

After a series of remarks, prayers and well-wishes from a variety of speakers including Nixon, HHC board member and retired Air Force Col. Tom Reiter and Greater Mission Outreach Pastor Betty Sue Earls, Smith said a tearful “thank you” to the crowd.

Nixon reminded everyone that the home Smith and her children received was built by volunteers, but it came with the same requirements by which every Habitat homeowner must abide.

Smith will pay a mortgage on the home, 40 percent below market price, thanks in part to the volunteer labor. According to Nixon, Smith has already put in “300 hours of sweat equity,” fulfilling the requirement that she volunteer with the organization to pay forward the good will she received.

To conclude the dedication, Gabrielle Hunter, the eldest child of the Hunter family, presented Smith with the keys to the new home and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Smith and her children Tariq, 13, Ellishiah, 7, and Dorrian, 4, will move into the home just in time for Christmas.

“I get to have my own room,” Ellishiah said when asked what she was most excited about for the move.

Smith’s mother, Deborah Tootle Small, was also present at the dedication. Tootle Small, herself a 20-year Army veteran, spoke of her relief at knowing her daughter and grandchildren now live in a safe area.

“I don’t live here, so now I can leave here with peace knowing she’s got a roof over her head and she’s taken care of,” Tootle Small said. “I can leave happy, no worries in the back of my mind.”

Smith, also a disabled veteran, credited her faith for helping her make it to this moment.

“It pays off to definitely keep the faith, keep praying, and keep working hard,” Smith said. “You might not think you’re working hard, or you might not think you’re making the progress you should be making, but He blesses in mysterious ways.”

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