HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Family finds fresh start in new home

Nov. 10, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Autumn Ritman just moved into her very own home on Goldsboro Avenue thanks to the Sanford Area Habitat for Humanity, and soon she's going to have a new neighbor courtesy of same organization.

November marks the local Habitat chapter's 24th anniversary, and volunteers will mark the occasion by going to work on rehabilitating an existing house on Goldsboro Avenue for a new family to call home.

Ritman, 26, moved into her new home late last month with her two children, Nakiya and Malachi Burch. The kids said they're happy to be in their new home, but Ritman herself is even happier.

"When I applied for it, I didn't think I'd get it," she said. But now that she has moved in: "It's a whole new experience, owning instead of renting. It feels different. It feels good, and it makes you want to take better care of things, since they're your own now."

A gravel driveway leads up to the porch at her new home, with a screen door leading into a cozy living room with two plush couches and a television. In the kitchen, Ritman's mom, Jacquelyn Gibbs, fries up some steaks and talks about the Carolina Panthers — an article about the team's most recent win is highlighted and taped to the fridge alongside an old Sanford Herald article from when she herself got a Habitat house some years back — and around the corner are the washer and dryer and everyone's bedrooms.

Ritman has a colorful comforter on her bed, and her own bathroom. Six-year-old Malachi has Pixar sheets on his bed and Sesame Street posters in his room, and 8-year-old Nakiyah has pictures of baby animals in her room — and she's excited that they might get a dog of their own now that they have a backyard.

Ritman said she's incredibly grateful to everyone who put in volunteer work on the house — as part of the deal, she herself had to donate 200 "sweat equity" hours to Habitat, so she knows what it's like — and she's excited to be free of the constraints of living in a small apartment under a landlord's rules.

"I had rented for five years, and I didn't want to keep renting forever," Ritman, who works at Walgreens and is taking classes at CCCC, said. "Plus, I'm still young, and I have two young kids, and I wanted them to be able to run around and play. ... (Also), I have nine brothers and sisters, and if I wanted to have them over for Thanksgiving or whatever, I couldn't have in an apartment. Now, I can."

John Ramsperger, president of the local Habitat group, said Ritman hit the nail on the head when she said owning makes you feel more responsible for a property. And as a real estate agent who has also involved in the city's beautification efforts in east Sanford, Ramsperger said having Habitat bring in new homeowners to those areas has helped the neighborhoods, as well as the individual familes.

"In an area with older homes, you're bringing in what's essentially a newer home, and that helps tremendously because of the [property] value," he said. "And then you've got the 'keeping up with the Joneses' factor. If the house next to you looks great, you're going to fix yours up, too."

The process to get into a Habitat home can take time, though. Gary Wicker, Habitat's executive director, said that even when people show up with all their paperwork in order, it can still take months. That's because the selection committee wants to make sure the new homeowner is prepared for the responsibilities and initial costs that come with it.

And while it can be hard to get a house through Habitat, it's easy to volunteer. Wicker said he's always encouraging new people to sign up to help with a house — tasks on site range from painting to planting flowers or doing some of the more intense construction labor — and anyone who wants to learn more can call (919) 774-6767, visit the store at 964 N. Horner Blvd. or visit sanford-habitat.org.