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It takes a village: Habitat for Humanity to build new community in Waynesville

fr waltonwoodsAs the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child.

Walton Garrett, the founder of Habitat for Humanity of Haywood County, hopes the newest Habitat project will help raise a whole bunch of them. 

With a generous land donation, the organization will begin work on Walton Woods — a Waynesville development that will include eight homes, a playground and a growing a sense of community. 

Jamye Cooper, Habitat for Humanity’s executive director, said the project was named after Garrett because it was his deep belief in the need for safe and affordable housing that inspired him to start a Habitat chapter in Haywood County 25 years ago. 

Garrett was celebrating his 88th birthday at a Habitat house groundbreaking last August when Cooper said he explained to her the importance of Habitat’s mission. 

“He sat me down and said ‘I want to tell you the transformation in the life of the child that happens when we put them in one of these houses,’” she recalled. “It changes everything — it’s a game changer for the whole family but really for the children — this is about the children.”

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Garrett has worked on all 52 homes built by Haywood Habitat, and he was there last week when Cooper and volunteers unveiled the Walton Woods project to the community. The announcement of the project name was a surprise for him during the presentation.   

“For once in my life, I’m speechless,” he said. 


Land leads the way 

The whole idea to build Walton Woods started with a land donation — 1.5 acres at the intersection of Country Club Road and Davis Cove Road — from Sarah Jane League and her husband Gary Smith. The flat pasture property has been in League’s family for 57, years and she wanted to see it go to good use. When she moved back to Waynesville in 2008 and saw how much the area had developed on Davis Cove, she thought “why not?”

“We weren’t using it, and Habitat is a great cause,” she said. “We wanted to give back to the community and give people the opportunity to have a home. The village concept has exceeded my expectations.”

Bill Cole, former Habitat board president and longtime volunteer, said once the land was donated, a plan needed to be put together on how to best utilize the property. Habitat typically purchases small lots — one-eighth to one-fourth acres — to build a home on, but he knew this donation could open the door to something bigger. 

“We knew this was a special piece of property, and we didn’t want to mess it up,” he said. 

A community volunteer committee was formed and led by Cole to think outside the box, which is how the village concept came to be. Habitat typically constructs homes for families with young children, but Cole said the committee recognized that there were others in need in Haywood County.

“A new teacher in Haywood County could qualify for a Habitat home,” he said. “And we’ve never done anything for the elderly either. This can be a cohesive neighborhood where everyone can help each other.”

Others have also donated their skills and money to make this project possible. Committee member Brian Artle, with Grass Roots Gardens, is donating his landscaping skills for the development while Andy Bailey with A. Bailey Design Associates, is doing the design work for the homes. 

Habitat volunteer Jane Cole is funding the playground construction in memory of her parents, Sylvester and Allene Smith Vavruska, who were also community volunteers with a love of children. 


Now what?

It will also take a village to turn this development into a reality. Cooper said Habitat would need a lot more volunteers and a lot more money to complete the $850,000 project. 

Seed money will hopefully be coming soon. Cooper said Habitat was gifted a 2,500-square foot home in Maggie Valley several years ago. Though it didn’t meet the requirements for a Habitat home, the organization has put some improvements into the house and it will be listed on the open market within the next week.

“When it sells, we can start building Walton Woods — that’s our seed money,” Cooper said. 

Habitat homes are tailor-built for the selected family but are usually around 1,100-square feet and cost between $85,000-$90,000 with a land purchase included. The land donation for Walton Woods helped lower the cost of such a project, but Cooper said there are new costs associated with developing a village — water and sewer infrastructure, streets and sidewalks. 

“The village concept is a great model but the only way to make it work is you really need to get the land donated or purchase it at a really low cost,” she said. 

In-kind work will bring the $850,000 price tag down a bit, but the rest will require a lot of people and fundraising. Habitat builds one or two homes a year, so this will involve ramping up efforts substantially. 

“We’ve got to recruit a lot of volunteers and raise a lot of money,” Cooper said. “We have a good amount of volunteers in place, but because we’re going to be doing more than we’ve ever done before, we need new volunteers.”

Habitat will subcontract the work to build the foundations for the first two houses, and Cooper expects to have volunteers on site to work on construction by August. The goal is to complete three homes within a year and up to four homes the second year if the needed volunteers and money are in place. 

Habitat accepts applications in January and July each year. In January, six families applied for a home and three families will be selected in the next couple of weeks. Based on the families selected, Habitat will begin developing the specific house plans to fit their needs. 


How can you help?

Cooper said any individual or group can volunteer to help build regardless of their experience. For those who don’t want to help with construction, donations can be given to Habitat through its website, by mail or by phone. Businesses, churches and civic groups are also welcome to sponsor a home, which means volunteer hours for construction and securing funding for one particular home or a $55,000 donation. There are also other sponsorship levels available for things like roofs and driveways. 

If anyone would like more information about Habitat and its mission, Cooper said she is available to come give a presentation to anyone interested.

“We want people to know exactly what we’re doing and where their money is going,” she said “There are so many ways to get involved, but I can tell you from experience that helping build the houses is so much fun. It’s definitely a learning experience.”

For more information about Habitat or how to qualify for a Habitat home, visit

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