Habitat repair effort takes on its first home

It was way too hot for Mattie Caldwell to check out the commotion in her back yard last week, or the banging on her roof.

Men and women in yellow hardhats scurried about with clippers, rakes, saws, hammers and poison ivy killer.

They sweated each morning and afternoon to get Caldwell's home and surroundings in better shape.

Caldwell, who turns 92 today, said she did the yard work herself until age crept up on her.

That's why she was excited when volunteers with Our Towns Habitat for Humanity showed up to lend a hand.

"I think this is beautiful," she said, taking a break Wednesday from making stewed corn in her kitchen.

Caldwell's home on Catawba Avenue is the first fixup project for Our Towns since Habitat International selected the local nonprofit as one of 163 affiliates for its new Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative.

Long known for building new homes in partnership with working families in need, Habitat is branching out with its new initiative to repair existing homes in struggling neighborhoods.

Terry Laney, Our Towns executive director, said the affiliate hopes to repair at least 14 more homes during the fiscal year that began July 1. Our Towns serves residents of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville.

Caldwell's daughter Delorus Williams of Cornelius said she leapt at the chance to have her mom's two-story, powder-blue home fixed when Habitat officials came to Union Bethel AME Zion Church looking for worthy recipients.

The church is on Catawba Avenue near Caldwell's home, where she has lived for 50 years and cooks Sunday dinner for 14 visiting family members.

Caldwell, who has 15 great-great grandchildren, said her roof leaked both into the front of her home and into her kitchen, where she's famous for her banana bread, pound cakes, pies and Feed a Crowd Casserole, which includes hamburger, Italian sausage, cheddar cheese, noodles, green peppers, onions and mushrooms.

The little ones in her family couldn't play in her yard, where she once had a garden, because it was so thick with poison ivy.

The wood wheelchair ramp she used on the side of her home was no longer safe.

Then came the Habitat volunteers.

I watched as they laid pressed wood on the roof Wednesday before adding tarpaper and then shingles later in the week.

If ankle-deep poison ivy had covered Caldwell's yard, I never saw it: Volunteers had already removed it to nearby woods.

Work was scheduled to finish on Saturday, except for the wheelchair ramp, which will be completed this week.

A $5,000 donation from iQmetrix paid for the roof work, Laney said. iQmetrix provides management services for the cellular and wireless retail and telecommunications industries and has a local office in Davidson.

The volunteers included Caldwell's son Richard Caldwell, 65, of Huntersville and such longtime Habitat helpers as Noel Lafferty of north Charlotte. Lafferty said she pitches in on Habitat projects whenever she can.

"I believe in affordable, habitable housing," Lafferty said. "And in this case, they're already here, they have their home. They just need someone to repair it."