Last day of build for the Habitat House for Gadsden County, which was dedicated on Saturday. (Photo: Special to the Democrat)
Valerie White, Special to the Democrat Published 4:37 p.m. ET June 18, 2019
On the cusp of the 2019 hurricane season, one Gadsden County family will move into a new residence designed just for them. The Bethel Missionary Baptist Church dedicated a Habitat for Humanity house, sponsored by the church, on Saturday in Gretna to grandparents who are rearing their six grandchildren.
“This has been a dream for my wife and me to have our own home, not renting, but owning it,” said John Akins, patriarch of the family and a retired forklift operator at C.W. Roberts Asphalt Plant. “It just happened that the good Lord put the people in our lives to make it possible.”
The house has five bedrooms and two baths to accommodate the family of five boys and one girl, ages 4 to 18. This is the second home in a year the church has provided for families. Last year, an Eastpoint, family received keys to a manufactured home after wildfires ravaged the area.
Bethel volunteers work on Habitat House for Gadsden County family. (Photo: Special to the Democrat)
“I am humbled and thankful to the Bethel family for giving the $65,000 to build this house and to give up eight Saturdays to finish this work,” said the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., pastor of the church and whose vision engaged the church in the project. “This is one of the ways that we wanted to respond to Hurricane Michael by helping people rebuild their lives.”
During the course of two months, more than 230 volunteers, mainly members of the Millennial and other ministries of the church, the FAMU men’s basketball team, and the 100 Black Men, worked to complete the home, said Victor Wiley, a Bethel deacon, who coordinated the volunteers.
The Rev. Ronny Cannon, owner of Builders First Source and minister at the church, made an in-kind donation of doors and windows. Wiley said this experience has made him “more sensitive to praying that God gets us through this hurricane season in the Big Bend and throughout the U.S. and the world.”
Khe’Osha McClain-Salter, co-coordinator of the volunteers and paraeducator at Astoria Park Elementary, said while giving she also gathered.
“I thought we were doing something so great for the family when we started, but from this experience, I learned that we received a lot, too. I got to know the grandparents and grandchildren and to hear the kids’ ambitious goals and plans, their enthusiasm for what will be their new home and to see the gratitude in their glassy eyes for what we did.”
The Habitat Build spun out of a request by Helen Reed, a member of the church and recently retired mayor pro tempore of Gretna. Reed asked Holmes to sponsor a meal for the families affected by the hurricane. From the two meals the church provided, Holmes decided to adopt the town of 1,398 residents.
Bethel Missionary Baptist Pastor R.B. Holmes places sod at the new home in Gadsden County. (Photo: Special to the Democrat)
Gretna City Manager Antonio Jefferson said the property was already there due to code enforcement. The city donated the land and entered a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the Bethel Church.
“Pastor Holmes wanted to find a way for the city to connect with the church to uplift the community,” Jefferson said. “One and two all came together unexpectedly, and the right people were in the right place at the right time.”
The Akins, who call the house their “dream home,” have had their grandchildren since their birth but gained custody in 2004. They also have four adult children, nine more grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The family put in sweat equity of a combined 400-plus hours on their home, another Habitat home and at the Habitat Restore.
Delores Atkins, matriarch of the family and a retired cafeteria support aide and cook for Gadsden County Schools, was praying she would be able to make the dedication. “I’m praying that the Lord will bless me to be at the dedication because I had surgery and had to be out a few weeks while they were working on the house. But I hope to be there if the Lord says the same.”
Wiley, who will offer the occasion for the dedication program, said, “Working together you can exercise God’s great commandment of love. You can do a lot of things, overcome barriers, affect the initial catastrophic event and improve people’s lives.”