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Public defenders tackle Habitat for Humanity home
New lawyer striving to fulfill late grandfathers wishes
The Hall County Public Defender Office works Sunday on a Habitat for Humanity home in Copper Glen subdivision.

As Megan Ballard settled into her new job at the Hall County Public Defenders Office in March, she felt work on a Habitat for Humanity house was an ideal way to honor her late grandfather’s wishes.

“Helping those in need defined who my grandfather was as a man,” the assistant public defender said.

So, trading in law books for hammers, Ballard joined other staffers Sunday working on a home in Hall’s first Habitat for Humanity subdivision, Copper Glen, a 21-home development off Baker Road near Candler Road/Ga. 60.

Ballard, arriving from Wilmington, N.C, began working for the office in March, the same month her grandfather, Robert Kester, died.

He bequeathed a “substantial portion of his money to his children to spend on charitable causes as they saw fit,” stated a Habitat press release.

The donation from Kester’s estate will pay for half of the building materials at a 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom home in the subdivision.

“Half a house,” Ballard said, with a smile, as wind whipped and a light rain fell across the already muddy construction site.

It also seemed a fitting tribute, given her grandfather’s upbringing.

Kester was one of 10 children, and his family struggled to make ends meet after his father died when he was 9.

He and his older siblings worked odd jobs to help the family in their home. After serving in World War II, he went on to attend Davidson College and was a successful businessman in the global furniture industry.

Habitat for Humanity works to help low-income families buy a home, but it’s hardly a handout.

The process can take up to a couple of years, from a stringent application to requiring applicants to show they can make mortgage payments. Plus, applicants must complete “sweat equity” hours, attending Habitat activities and financial and homeownership classes.

Habitat’s local executive director, Ann Nixon, applauded the public defender office for its efforts.

“We can’t get along without partnerships … of people like the Ballards, stepping up and recognizing the need and wanting to participate,” she said. “It’s what makes our program work.”

Ballard said, for her, it also made sense to involve her office in the Habitat work.

Her grandfather “was just beyond excited I was going to be a lawyer, that I was helping people and doing God’s work,” she said.

The public defender office provides a defense for people charged with felonies or juvenile offenses who can’t afford to pay for an attorney.

Evi Turk, the public defender office manager, was happy to join the efforts.

“We think this is so special and so exciting,” she said. “I’ve actually always wanted to do this — I’ve just never gotten around to it.”

Public Defender Brad Morris said volunteer service is expected in his office.

Employees “are in the schools, they mentor, they coach,” he said. “It helps the community, but it helps them know the community. It’s a good experience, I think.”