By GWEN SISSON
Being a good Presbyterian, when the Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity opportunity came his way, Freddie Rasberry knew it was the ministry he was looking to impact during his retirement.
"Most people want to do something to help others," Rasberry said. "Habitat for Humanity is a good ministry that is all about loving your neighbor."
It was the ministry that "came his way" after retiring in 2003 from Mississippi State University after 32 years. He said he worked full time at the Palmer Home just after retirement, but began looking for another ministry as he began the training to become a lay pastor in the Presbyterian Church. He knew it would take a few years to work through the lay pastor training and Habitat was a good fit for his new schedule. He currently pastors two churches in Clay County, while serving as the Executive Director for the Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity.
"Our goal is to select a family that will benefit the most from having a secure home," Rasberry said. "We want to stabilize families because when the household is stabilized, the children do better socially. Studies show that stability benefits a family for multiple generations."
Since 1989, Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity has built 47 houses throughout Starkville and Oktibbeha County. The non-profit organization becomes the mortgage company for the selected homeowners, and now, some of their first families are beginning paying off their 20-year mortgage.
As part of the program, the selected family must work 300 volunteer hours in the building of their home, or their neighbor's home.
"If they help build the house, they will help take care of the home," Rasberry said. "This ministry gives the families an opportunity to step up."
Rasberry said the money generated from a family's mortgage payment goes into the building of the next house. Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity averages two to three homes per year, including the current Maroon Edition home in conjunction with MSU.
The organization also depends heavily on donations help as many families have affordable, safe housing. Fund generation and project management has been Rasberry's passion as part of Habitat for Humanity, but office manager, Peggy Buckley, has found Habitat to be a "real eye-opener."
"Habitat has opened a whole new world to me of people in need," Buckley said.
Buckley joined Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity in 2004, after retiring from MSU's Support Services. Buckley's passion has been working with the families and volunteers.
"I feel we have three clients, Habitat families, the community and the volunteers," Buckley said. "We are facilitators for volunteers to do Christian ministry in this community."
Buckley said it is hard to believe the excitement volunteers receive from learning the carpentry skills needed to build a home. She said it is a positive experience on a lot of levels.
"You would be surprised at how much building a home means to some of these college students," Buckley said. "They will drive by a house five years later and talk about what they learned and who they meet when they helped build a Habitat house."
Michelle Amos serves on Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors. She is passionate about helping people locally.
"I think that my heart is with Habitat because we're changing the lives of people right here at home, Amos said. "There are so many needs in the world that sometimes what's right around the corner gets overlooked. We're changing our little world one family at a time."
Amos said she also likes working with an organization that is fiscally responsible. "The money we raise goes directly into a home, impacting a family immediately," Amos said. "We can account for every penny that's raised and where it goes in a house. That's important."
Amos has worked as part of the family selection committee for many years.
"We work with some of the most incredible people who just need a little hand up," Amos said. "They just need a break, and we're able to help them with that. I've always walked away from our family selection process with true respect for the individuals who make the very best of a bad situation, whether it be overcrowding or poor living conditions. By placing them in a Habitat home—which they both work on and pay for—they're given a fresh start and a chance to own their own home. When we're able to tell a family that they've been selected for a house, I'm the one that walks away feeling blessed."
For more information about Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity, go to http://www.starkvillehabitat.com  or call 324-7008.