In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity held a special “Building on the Dream” day at Pocahontas Woods in Marlinton Saturday.
Volunteers gathered at the shop to construct interior walls for two homes that will be built later this year.
Prior to construction, a Call to Action ceremony was held, featuring a speech from Joan Browning, a special assistant to Rainelle mayor Andrea Pendleton. Browning was unable to attend the event, but she sent her speech to inspire those in attendance.
NRI coordinator Judy Fuller explained that Browning had a special connection to Habitat, as well as to the deeds of Dr. King.
“She is connected to Habitat because in 1961, she was arrested in Albany, Georgia, as a Freedom Rider and it was too dangerous for her to stay in Albany, so they took her about twenty miles away to Koinonia Farm for her to spend a couple of nights,” Fuller said.
Koinonia Farm was the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity. The farm was founded in 1942 and inspired Millard and Linda Fuller to found Habitat for Humanity International in 1976.
Browning came to West Virginia in 1969 after West Virginia Tech requested her help in founding an artist cooperative. That cooperative later became Mountain Artists and is still in operation.
Volunteer Margaret Worth read Browning’s speech to the gathering of volunteers.
“Those of you who answered the call to be present here already know about hearing a call to action,” Browning wrote. “Let me preach to the choir for a moment – you, being here this morning to celebrate the building of interior walls for a Habitat for Humanity home, and especially you, the family whose home will be begun here. Home takes on an especially poignant meaning for this area after the horrific fire that cost not only business spaces but destroyed the abode of many families.”
Browning recalled her time participating in the Civil Right Movement, or Freedom Movement as she referred to it. From the movement, many other movements were born.
“The movement ‘borned’ out of the Freedom Movement that brings you together today is the movement to help people own their own homes,” Browning continued. “Habitat for Humanity, umbrella for Almost Heaven Habitat, was begun in rural southwest Georgia on the Koinonia Farm. Koinonia Farm was organized in the 1930s during the Great Depression, as a farm where everyone worked and everyone benefitted.
As a child, the importance of owning a home was made evident to Browning.
“My grandfather was a sharecropper, then a tenant and by the time I was born, the family had progressed up the southern rural farm opportunity chain to renter,” Browning said through her writing. “Then with a loan provided by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, we bought a farm of fifty-eight acres and a four room log house. I loved that house.”
Including an excerpt from her autobiographical chapter, “Shiloh Witness,” from the book “Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement,” Browning described life on the farm and her love for the log home.
On one fateful night, the log home was engulfed in flames and lost to the family forever. As the family watched their home burn, neighbors and community members gathered around them and provided shelter, clothing and other amenities needed to survive.
“The message imprinted on my mind was that one does not wait to be invited to help in the face of tragedy,” Browning wrote. “The community and family response to the fire was proof that individuals could rise to help their neighbors. I truly lived within the comforting arms of a beloved community.”
Browning, her father and older brother went on to build a new home. Although it never had the same appeal and grandeur of the log home, it was home nonetheless.
“While that house never held my affections as much as the log house, it was special,” Browning recalled. “Like the home that you are beginning today, it had my labors in it. I knew where boards fit together, where electrical wiring ran concealed in ceilings and walls.”
Browning’s remarks ended with thanks to the volunteers who answered the call to action to assist in building homes for those in need.
Volunteers from the three counties – Pocahontas, Pendleton and Greenbrier – served by AHHH were in attendance for the special day of service.
While the older volunteers constructed interior walls, the children in attendance made birdhouses which will be presented to the families after their homes are built.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org