After years of planning and prayers, Charity Winfield and her baby son will soon move from a one-bedroom apartment to their very own three-bedroom house just down the street — a "dream come true" that Winfield said she never could have achieved alone.
She submitted her application to Habitat for Humanity in 2016 and was later accepted into the program. In addition to raising her son and working as a medical assistant, Winfield, 28, soon began the process of earning her future house: taking financial literacy classes and volunteering hundreds of hours working on other people's homes before construction started on her own.
Finally she received news that the organization had a lot available in a neighborhood off Burbank Drive, close to her current apartment and in the area where her family has lived for decades.
"The first time I came here I almost passed out," Winfield said, standing outside her new home and holding 2-year-old Micah Winfield balanced on one hip. "I was so happy and shocked that this was all happening."
Micah has already picked out his new room. And his mom looks ahead eagerly to days in the near future when she'll watch him run around their backyard.
During a dedication ceremony Sunday afternoon, Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers officially gave Winfield their blessings with dozens of supporters each placing a hand on the home and reciting the Lord's Prayer in unison.
Winfield hopes to move within the next few months once the final phases of construction are complete.
Hundreds of volunteers — many of them local high school students — started the project about a month earlier on March 17 and have spent their weekends since building the house from the ground up. Winfield said the project has reminded her that people are willing to come together and lend a hand during tough times.
Lynn Clark, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge, said the organization selects home recipients based on their income, credit history and other factors, including their current living situation.
She said the construction process often gives the homeowner a sense of strength and self reliance in addition to ultimately providing shelter. The local branch has built 345 houses since its founding in 1989 and now typically builds about 15 to 20 houses per year.
Winfield's new home is the product of the annual Albemarle Youth Build sponsored by the nonprofit arm of Baton Rouge specialty chemical maker Albemarle Corporation. Three local high schools — Catholic High, Episcopal High and St. Joseph's Academy — participate in the project every spring.
One of the students volunteering this year, Catholic High senior Mike Woods, plans to become a civil engineer one day. He said the program has taught him invaluable skills and has given him a better understanding of how construction works.
With only interior finishing touches remaining before she can move in, Winfield will pay a mortgage for many years to come, assuming full financial responsibility for the property as soon as she moves in.
"This program truly brings the community together, people of all different ages and backgrounds," said Suzanne Tessier with Albemarle Foundation. "But this house is by no means a gift. … It's a partnership."