A lot can change in 30 years and Habitat for Humanity of Gaston County is a prime example. The nonprofit was started by community-minded volunteers Becky Carter and Johan Newcombe in 1988. Their first house was built a year later.

Now, the nonprofit has a full staff and board of directors and volunteers are currently working on its 117th and 118th houses.

Moving around

Mary Harris has been the executive director of Habitat for 23 of those 30 years and was the first person paid for the position. At the time, the nonprofit was Habitat for Humanity of Gastonia with satellites in Belmont, Cherryville and Mount Holly. When she first started, there were talks of starting another satellite in Bessemer City.

Habitat for Humanity International encouraged them to combine the satellite locations to one central affiliate. The locations merged in 2000 and by 2001, the group became Habitat for Humanity of Gaston County.

Habitat Gaston has moved a few times over the last 30 years with locations including the former BB&T bank building on Main Avenue, a building on Union Road, a warehouse on Second Avenue and now, the site of a former cardiac rehab facility and Northern Tools location on East Franklin Boulevard.

“Over the years since we’ve been here 30 years it’s like when you start up you start from the bottom and work your way up. In 30 years for us to land here, in this particular spot, is a real blessing,” said Harris.

The current space provided Habitat with the ability to have its offices and ReStore together, a 16,000 square foot increase of sales floor space for the ReStore, and a new event center.

The Johan Newcombe Event Center is located on the backside of the offices and was formerly exercise space for the rehab center.

“When we saw that we thought this would be great networking space. We could use the space to fundraise,” said Harris.

The space is now leased out for private events from dinners to weddings to Christmas parties and is now the home of the annual Carpenter’s Ball.

How it works

Every year, about 200 people inquire about getting a house through Habitat for Humanity. There’s a lot that goes into selecting the families.

“It doesn’t always fit for everybody, but we do always have a lot of people asking and inquiring,” said Harris.

To qualify, applicants must have a need, the ability to pay for the house, and a willingness to get a little dirty.

Participants of the program must complete volunteer hours, attend workshops on topics like home maintenance and money management, and put in a set amount of hours of “sweat equity,” or work building their house. Community members and volunteer groups help out the soon-to-be owners and some groups, like the Gaston Area Presbyterians, also known as GAP, write Bible verses and other inspirational quotes on the boards above each doorway before the walls go up.

“When you enter into your new home, you will know all of these people who have had their hands helping build your home have helped build it with lots of love,” said Leesa McKeon Habitat director of resource development and special events.

In the last 30 years, only one family has defaulted on their loan.

“That’s something to be proud of because I know a lot of Habitat crews can’t say that. I think it shows that we try to do a very good job selecting families and also supporting them,” said Harris.

Families have in-home visits from Habitat representatives. Seeing the conditions some families live in can be a little overwhelming.

“My very first family they had four children and their water was it looked like red clay. The walls in the bathroom were eaten up with termites. The conditions of the house was just very overwhelming to me,” said Harris.

Luckily, the family was approved and between 10 and 12 weeks later had a new, termite-free house to call home.

Carpenter’s Ball

To pay for the homes, Habitat relies on a combination of proceeds from ReStore sales, donations and fundraising events.

Habitat hosts a yearly golf tournament and participates in Run for The Money, but the ball is their largest fundraiser of the year and was started 12 years ago

“Most Habitat affiliates have an annual fundraiser. We looked for one and we searched out other Habitat affiliates’ that were doing annual fundraisers. The Carpenter’s Ball was one that came up and the name fit who we are,” said Harris.

About 200 people attend yearly event. About $33,000 was raised at last year’s ball.

This year, McKeon hopes to raise $90,000 and has a few new fundraising activities to help reach that goal.

In addition to the usual silent and live auctions, McKeon is hosting a cork pull and Wheel of Fortune. For the Wheel of Fortune, guests are invited to pull an envelope off the board. Each envelope will have a dollar amount from $1 to $200. The amount written in the envelope is the amount the individual will be asked to donate.

To participate in the cork pull, guests will pay $20 to pull a numbered wine cork. Whatever number they pull will be matched up with a bottle of wine with the same number. Bottles will range in value from $15 to $100.

Overmountain Vineyard in Tryon will supply the wine. Food for the evening will be provided by Chef Colin Miller of Washington Yacht & Country Club.

Music will be provided by Coming Up Brass.

Habitat For Humanity of Gaston County President John Lowery and Harris will both speak at the dinner, reflecting on the work Habitat has done over the last 30 years and looking toward the future.

“(The community) always hears we have needs, we’re always asking for support. But I don’t know that we thank them enough. This gives us an opportunity to say thank you for helping us come this far in 30 years,” said Harris. “We pray they’ll help us go another 30 years and keep on building this community and making it a better place to live.”

Tickets are $100 per person and $190 for couples. Five levels of sponsorship are also still available. The deadline for both is Sept. 21.

For more information about sponsorship opportunities, call Leesa McKeon at 704-864-6536 ext. 101.

To purchase tickets, visit habitatgaston.org.

Reach reporter Brandy Beard at bbeard@gastongazette.com or 704-869-1840.