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Army National Guard veteran Amanda Williams is one of those who has benefited from proceeds from the Louisiana Veterans Festival. She is pictured May 6 at her new home in Slidell.

Amanda Williams saw a dream come true last month when she and her six children, ages 1 to 16, moved into a new Habitat for Humanity home in Slidell, thanks to Habitat’s Veterans Build program.

“It’s exciting to know you have a place to go to, a place to call home,” Williams said of her new home on Riviera Drive.

“Amanda is the perfect example of why we do the Veterans Build program,” said Rene Arcemont, president and CEO of East Habitat for Humanity. “She is phenomenal.”

The East St. Tammany Habitat’s Louisiana Veterans Festival, taking place May 18 at Heritage Park in Slidell, funds the Veterans Build program.

“We build homes for veterans with revenue from the festival," Arcemont said. “(Amanda's house) is our third.”

Selecting Williams, who served in the Army National Guard for two years, was a “double win,” Arcemont said. “It fulfills our mission as Habitat and it puts a veteran in a home."

He's seen how the Veterans Build program has helped provide affordable housing for homeless veterans and those in transitional housing or living with relatives, as was the case with Williams.

Arcemont looks forward to the dedication of Williams’ home, when she will be presented with Habitat’s traditional symbols: a toolbox and a Bible. She will choose the date, he said, once she and the children are more settled.

Williams’ house is unique for a Habitat build in Slidell, Arcemont said.

“It’s 8 feet off the ground due to the flood zone; plus, we knew she needed a larger house.” Hers is four bedrooms instead of the traditional Habitat three-bedroom home.

Williams, of course, will pay the mortgage as every Habitat homeowner does, Arcemont said. She also went through the standard Habitat application process and was tagged as a veteran to be eligible for the Veterans Build program.

“I was glad to be able to apply for a stable home for me and my kids,” Williams said. “I was happy to be chosen for the veterans Habitat home."

And her kids "love having their own bedrooms," she said. "They're happy."

Arcemont said seeing a family's happiness is what makes efforts such as Habitat and Veterans Build so worthwhile.

“You can’t beat it," Arcemont said. "They are a beautiful family.”

Williams said her time in the National Guard gave her the chance to experience a lot of things she would not have been able to experience otherwise. Now, she said, her 16-year-old daughter, Deja, may be interested in going into the service.

Arcemont said Habitat for Humanity is dedicated to continuing its support for veterans like Williams. Under Habitat International’s Veterans Build requirements, the East St. Tammany chapter agrees to “develop and implement programs that intentionally engage the military and veteran communities in the five key areas (build, engage, employ, educate and honor).” 

With that in mind, Arcemont and others are looking forward to the Veterans Festival to promote awareness of veterans and raise money for another home.

“Our goal is to build one a year,” he said, adding that each house costs $85,000 to $95,000 to construct.

Louisiana Veterans Festival Committee Chair Elwin Ordoyne said, “We know there is a need for housing for veterans; it’s our way of giving back to those who gave so much for us. We are trying to help in any way we can.”

As for Amanda Williams, she said she is glad to have the help as she begins a new chapter in life. She just started a new job with STARC, and she also has a new place to call home. 

For more information on the Louisiana Veterans Festival, visit laveteransfestival.com/

For information on East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity, visit www.esthfh.org/