From the Ground Up

Volunteers from St. Michael the Archangel stand around the build site.

“There’s lots of prayers being built into the walls of this house,” said Sister Carolyn Capuano as she led a prayer for a group of volunteers preparing to begin building a home on August 4, 2023.

The group consisted of parishioners from St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Canton, staff from Habitat for Humanity and the family who will own this house one day very soon—Drew and Aysha Mathis, parents to three young boys, have always lived in and around Canton. Although they both have fulltime jobs, they’ll be putting many hours of work into their future home, alongside volunteers from multiple churches in the Stark County deanery.

St. Michael the Archangel Parish has been working with Habitat for Humanity over the past 12 years, building a home for a local family each year. This particular build, however, represents a new chapter in the program’s history, as several parishes in the Stark County deanery—also including St. Paul Parish, Holy Spirit Parish and the newly-minted St. Francis of Assisi Parish—are collaborating this year in what is being called the “Stark County Catholic Community Build.”

The goal of this build, and of Habitat for Humanity, is to build a ladder to help people escape the clutches of cyclical poverty. A big part of that is training the future owners of a home in the essential construction and financial skills that they will need to maintain the house and eventually pay off their loan.

If you’re surprised to hear that Drew and Aysha will still need to take a loan to buy the home, don’t worry—that’s actually part of Habitat for Humanity’s strategy. There’s no predatory lending to be found here.

“It’s really this big cycle of community investment that makes this a beautiful picture of the best of humanity,” said Kevin Miller, director of communications for Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio. “Families invest in what this is and give that sweat equity and invest that in their homes, and then when they purchase their homes, all those mortgage payments at zero percent interest go back right into funding more homebuilding and work.”

Although Habitat for Humanity is a charitable organization, they are committed to a sustainable approach, where current projects help fuel future projects. Volunteer labor helps keep the costs lower, and, with a zero percent interest rate, the families won’t have to worry about the sky-high interest rates that are often the only ones they can qualify for.

“It’s a hand up, not a handout,” Sister Carolyn said.

Families can take pride in the fact that they earned their homes and even helped raise them up from the ground. It can make a huge difference in the family’s future.

The Mathis’ house is part of a larger revitalization effort taking place in the neighborhood. Habitat for Humanity is also providing renovations for other houses on the street, as well as a playground for kids.

Sister Carolyn said that this new collective initiative came as a result of St. Michael’s 70th anniversary celebrations.

“The invitation to multiple parishes to all work alongside [each other] hopefully exemplifies a more collaborative outreach,” she said.

That Friday, August 4, was the first day of volunteer work, manned by volunteers from St. Michael the Archangel. Participating parishes cycle through volunteer days, giving each parish equal opportunity to contribute labor in each stage of the construction. (Editor’s Note: There will be follow-up coverage of this collaborative effort between parishes in a future edition of The Catholic Echo.)

While the labor is perhaps the most visible part of the effort, there are many more ways for parishioners to contribute to the build. Parishioners can donate funds as well as tools to a collection “toolbox.” But perhaps most essential—even for those who are unable to donate time, money or tools—is prayer.

When Sister Carolyn said that prayers were being built into the walls of the home, she wasn’t just being metaphorical. Before Habitat for Humanity broke ground on the Mathis family’s build, support beams which will one day be a part of the home were sent to the participating parishes where parishioners wrote prayers and messages of support onto the beams.

“We can all be involved in some way,” Sister Carolyn said. “[There are] really elderly people at the parish and they are praying every day for this. Their faces lit up at the opportunity to write a blessing on a build.”

The goal is for construction to be completed by November 30, when Bishop Bonnar plans to dedicate and bless the home.

“It’s a really big blessing for us,” said Aysha. “I’m just glad that I’m able to provide a safe, nice foundation for my children—and my man.”

While this home will be a beautiful place to raise their family, Aysha and Drew are hoping to one day give this house to their children. It’s impossible to measure just how much of an impact this house will have for Aysha and Drew’s family in all the generations to come.

The Mathises pose with Sister Carolyn

Aysha, a self-professed “crier,” first applied for a build through Habitat for Humanity nearly ten years ago but was denied due to both an outstanding traffic fine as well as general financial instability. Habitat for Humanity wants the families to be in positions to succeed long term, and if the applicants don’t have a reasonable degree of financial security, the home payments could become an even greater burden for them and cause them to go into bankruptcy and potentially lose the house. Although she was disappointed to be denied the first time, Aysha decided to give it another shot now that she and her husband are in a more stable position.

“A year or two ago … I applied, and when they approved me, you should’ve seen me,” Aysha said with a laugh. “I was shouting, I was like ‘thank you Jesus!’ It means a whole lot to just get something on your own without getting a handout.”

The whole Mathis family is ecstatic to begin this new chapter of their lives. Aysha said that her three boys even want to be at the site, helping to build the home. “I said: ‘you’re not old enough, but you’re going to be here one day. It’s coming.’ Hopefully we can have our Christmas here!” said Aysha.

Knowing that a Christian community is sponsoring the construction of her family’s home was particularly impactful for Aysha, as faith has always been a part of her life, thanks to her mother’s role as a pastor at Zion’s Temple Church of God in Canton.

Aysha smiles inside the foundation of her home

“It’s anointed from the ground up,” Aysha said.

Kevin Miller, director of communications for Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio, affirmed that Christian faith communities do indeed bring something special to these projects.

“The Catholic community is incredibly valuable to the work of Habitat for Humanity in the ways that they bring faith and build on that,” he said. “Building on faith is an important part of this whole thing to us … keeping [faith] in the center of what we do … [it is] a constant reminder of the fact that God is working through the work of Habitat for Humanity.”

Stark County parishioners interested in donating time, resources, or keeping the Mathis family in your prayers, are invited to find out more through the St. Michael the Archangel Parish, St. Paul Parish, Holy Spirit Parish and St. Francis of Assisi Parish. You can also find more information at The Catholic Echo will continue to follow this story.

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