Twenty years ago, Angela Grier was living in public housing in Concord with her young daughter.
She was working two jobs and coming home to take care of her daughter in a neighborhood where drugs were common and occasional gunfire echoed in the street.
She had been living there about two years when she saw a newspaper article about a new local organization, Habitat for Humanity Cabarrus County. She gave organizers a call and put in an application, and within weeks, she was on her way to becoming a homeowner.
Now Habitat for Humanity Cabarrus County is celebrating its 20th anniversary, marked by the construction of its first house - Grier's home - 20 years ago this spring.
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Since Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976, the international Christian nonprofit has built more than 350,000 houses around the world and sold them to families at no profit and financed them with affordable loans.
The organization's local chapter, which has built 119 houses in Cabarrus County, is celebrating its anniversary with several events in March and April.
Habitat Cabarrus will host the HabiTrot, a 5K walk and run at Concord's Les Myers Community Park on Saturday. The HabiTrot will benefit the 20th Anniversary Faith Blitz Build, a project in which local churches will team up to build two houses in six weeks beginning in April.
Like other nonprofits, Habitat Cabarrus has been hit by the recession, particularly in the number of donations coming into the organization's ReStore, a store on South Cannon Boulevard in Kannapolis that sells donated furniture, appliances and building supplies to raise money to build homes.
"People just aren't changing out furniture and appliances like they did before the recession," said Dean Johnson, executive director of Habitat Cabarrus.
But that isn't stopping volunteers from coming out and getting their hands dirty. The organization has 1,800-2,000 volunteers each year.
This month, Habitat Cabarrus is hosting the Collegiate Challenge, a program that brings college students from across the country to build houses in Cabarrus County.
Last week a group of 22 students from Ohio Northern University spent their spring break working on a house in Magnolia Crossing, a subdivision of Habitat homes in Concord.
The house will belong to Holly Legnon, 21, who hopes to move into her new home in early April.
Legnon has helped build five other houses for Habitat Cabarrus, but now she's concentrating on her own. Her shoes caked in mud last week, she explained how she had moved tresses and hung plywood with the help of the college students.
The home she's living in now with her 3-year-old daughter and boyfriend is heated by a single kerosene heater. At night, they all sleep huddled together on a pull-out couch by the heater in the living room to stay warm.
Having a new home means everything to her, Legnon said as she stood between 2-by-4 planks that would soon become the walls of her home.
"It's somewhere warm where I can lay my head down and know my daughter is safe," she said.
Potential homeowners must meet three criteria. They must first demonstrate a need for housing, whether that means they are currently living in substandard housing or they're being charged too much for rent. They must also prove that they have a source of income.
The third requirement is 250 volunteer hours or "sweat equity." Potential homeowners help build others' homes and take classes that range from financial literacy to conflict resolution.
The cost of the homes, which are appraised at about $120,000, are broken up into two mortgages for homeowners. The first is a $90,000-$95,000 loan with a zero percent interest rate that is typically paid back over 20-25 years. The second is a "forgivable" mortgage that homeowners do not have to pay as long as they stay up-to-date on their payments.
The zero percent interest loan frees up homeowners' discretionary income, allowing them to save money as well as be able to pay for necessities such as food or medical costs, Johnson said.
"Each payment they make is going toward the principal," he said. "It's an opportunity to create wealth."
Originally, Grier, now 45, said she was told that she would not qualify for a house through Habitat for Humanity. A Habitat Cabarrus staffer called to tell her that because her home wasn't considered substandard, she would not qualify.
But as they spoke over the phone, he heard gunfire in the background.
"He said, 'I'm going to have to call you back,'" Grier said.
When he called back, Grier's application had been approved.
The organization gave her the choice of a few plots, and she chose land on Powder Street Southwest in Concord. Six weeks after construction began, she moved into her new home, where she still lives.
"It was a home I could call my own," Grier said. "It gave me a sense of pride - for me and my daughter."
Johnson said homeownership is more than having a place to stay.
"It's not just about the houses," he said. "It's about getting these folks to make a change in their lives forever. It's about breaking cycle of poverty."