Photo courtesy of Women United.
The basket of toilet paper, oven mitts and aluminum foil meant so much to Lolita Stephens.
For the single mother, not only was it the accumulation of months of taking classes to equip her for financial stability and home ownership, working full-time and saving up for a down payment, it represented a bright future for Stephens and her children as well as a supportive community of friends.
“It was a big change, but I was taking it all in,” Stephens said, who had spent years shifting addresses and living in financial insecurity. “To finally be stable was a big, big, overwhelming achievement that I’d been aiming for for a long time.”
Stephens is one of the many women that Women United has helped through their Welcome Home initiative.
Last year, Women United, an affiliate of United Way of Central Alabama, launched their signature initiative, Project Welcome Home, a partnership with United Way’s Individual Development Account program and Habitat for Humanity, to help first-time homeowners.
“Home ownership affects every part of their family’s lives, having a permanent address so that their kids are going to school and staying in a school system, having a neighborhood with a support system around you,” said Jessica Hightower, United Way’s director of major gifts.
With IDA, women take classes designed to build assets and develop skills for financial self-sufficiency and work to save $2,000, which they can then use as a down payment on a house through Habitat for Humanity. A community sponsor matches the $2,000 and a grant provides another $2,000, which gives the new homeowner $6,000.
Unfortunately, after all the expenses a house incurs, women frequently lack enough money for basic household items, which is why Women United started Project Welcome Home. After a woman purchases her house, members of Women United give her a basket with necessities such as cleaning supplies, tissues and garbage cans.
“As women are getting their homes, we started thinking about that first run to the store and how much money we spend just on the basic things you need for a new home,” Hightower said. “So we started to put these baskets together to give to new homeowners.”
Last year, at Habitat for Humanity’s home dedication, 13 women received keys to their new homes, Bibles, blessings and Welcome Home baskets. This year, the event will be held on Sept. 1.
“What we’re trying to do is draw attention to the power of women in philanthropy and the impact they can have and fun they can have while doing it,” said Samuetta Nesbitt, senior vice president of public relations for United Way.
Stephens stays connected with the organization, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.
“I always want to give back from now on,” she said. “You’ve got to step out on faith and do not say that you can’t do it, because they’re going to help you do it ... You have to just be determined and stay focused and not lose track of what you have to look forward to.”
Women United will be holding Project Welcome Home Shopping Night on Sept. 22 at The Summit. A percentage of sales will go toward Project Welcome Home. People also can donate online or learn more at uwca.org.