TUPELO • As Dierdre Peggen Berry celebrates her first Thanksgiving in her new Habitat for Humanity home, she just wants her children to have faith.
“I had gotten a little flustered because it felt like it was taking forever, but I continued to be prayerful and I was thankful,” Berry said. “I had to learn some patience, and they did, too. The biggest thing is God will provide.”
Michelle Shepherd, executive director for the Northeast Mississippi Habitat said that since the housing processing can be long, it typically ends with much gratitude and relief.
“(What) we’re trying to do at Habitat is to help build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter, and I just think the first holidays in the home are a really good example of those things. People have stability with their family and their finances that they haven’t had previously, and the holidays are just a good time to celebrate those things,” Shepherd said.
Berry lives in her home with her husband, Travonta Berry, and two children, 17-year-old SaNiyah Shumpert and 12-year-old Keylen Peggen. The family has already made one holiday memory in their new home. On Halloween, the family enjoyed a movie night, complete with s’mores, popcorn, snacks, an air mattress and a projector.
Berry first applied for a Habitat for Humanity Home in 2014. At the time, she was living in the mobile home where she grew up. Her parents left it for her and her daughter, but it was more than 30 years old by the time Berry sought a Habitat home.
Berry’s aunt, Grace Rogers, encouraged the Habitat application. Berry, who works at the Family Resource Center as a positive youth development coordinator, initially thought “people like me don’t get approved” and burst into tears when she received the acceptance.
More than 100 people apply each year and anywhere between five and 15 are accepted a year. Shepherd said there are three criteria when application screening begins in January: the need for new housing, willingness to partner and ability-to-pay according to income guidelines.
“Typically, people can’t qualify for traditional financing, so we want to make sure that when we sell them this home, that it’s not a burden,” Shepherd said.
Habitat for Humanity requires potential homeowners to perform a certain amount of volunteer work helping to build other homes. They must also take financial education and home maintenance classes.
Once applicants reach their required hours, they are put on a waitlist. Shepherd said Habitat builds about five homes a year, and on average it takes 18 months to two years for applicants to move from list to home. The process can take longer for partners who want specific areas.
Construction began on Berry’s home the first weekend in January. Her family was excited about getting the home, especially her daughter, who was living in Texas with her aunt at the time.
“The day that we actually started building, she was home for Christmas break, so she got to be a part of that process, so that was really special,” Shepherd said.
While her son was too young at the time to volunteer, Berry said her mother, Denise Peggen, was another big helper who worked alongside her for a lot of her volunteer and home building work. Berry also thanked her friends, family and church for offering prayers and support.
Berry was able to close on the house and move in this June. She said she adores her new home and the experience has been exciting. She will celebrate Thanksgiving at her mother’s house, but plans a Thanksgiving breakfast in her home and will invite family and friends later that day to set up a projector and watch movies.
Shepherd said she is thankful to homeowners for giving Habitat for Humanity the privilege of getting to know them. She also thanked the volunteers and community sponsors and hopes people are reminded what a burden affordable housing can be during the holidays.
Since her move from a two bedroom apartment, Berry said everyone in her family enjoys having their own room for the first time.
She hopes the holidays offer the family plenty of time to spend together. For Christmas, she looks forward to decorating the outside of her home for the first time and wants to carry on her tradition of making candies and setting up a tree.
“I definitely want to thank Habitat because this program has really been a blessing to me and my family,” Berry said.