PALMETTO -- A steady rain and overcast skies couldn't damper a Thursday dedication of a newly refurbished home on Third Avenue West in Palmetto.
Maybe it was the jovial mood of Manatee County Habitat for Humanity volunteers, or perhaps it was one of the best known local smiles in full glow on Ruby Jefferson's face that made it hard for anyone attending to believe it was anything but a beautiful, sunny day.
For the past three months, 62 volunteers have put in a total of 1,660 hours of work on a house that was built about 40 years ago. The 78-year-old Johnson has called it home ever since moving to Palmetto in 1969 with her late husband, Pastor Willie B. Jefferson, who died in 2006. Ann Jefferson, the only daughter of the seven Jefferson children, moved in to care for her mother following the death of Ruby's husband.
While she was able to provide emotional support to her mom, the condition of the house had deteriorated over the course of many years, and funds to stay on top of a growing number of repairs have been scarce for the retired Tillman Elementary School cafeteria worker.
Some people may look at their living conditions and see their lives
tripped within a negative light. Not Jefferson, who is known throughout the community for lounging on her patio and giving every passerby a happy smile and friendly wave. Her home is virtually new from the inside out, and while the structure looks different, Jefferson remains the same.
"This is an old family home," said Jefferson. "We took it over close to 40 years ago, so it means a lot to me because we raised our children here. It's wonderful what has happened here, and I appreciate all these people so much."
The Palmetto community redevelopment agency funds the Habitat for Humanity renovations, and while the partnership of the two organizations have led to about a dozen minor upgrades in various neighborhoods, they have completed about five major renovations and have another active project underway.
Antoinette Kilgore, CRA administrative assistant, said the partnership began about two years ago. Most of the projects completed have been similar to Jefferson's -- older and widowed women.
"It's heartbreaking the first time you walk up to some of these houses and see the conditions of some of them," said Kilgore. "It's human to have your heart go out to them and you want to do something about it. So that's what the Palmetto CRA is doing. We are putting aside funding for these projects and partnering with a great organization like Habitat for Humanity who knows how to get projects like this one done."
Gary French is a Habitat volunteer and like some others put about 200 hours of volunteer time into the home. He said there was a lot of work to be done when crews first arrived.
"The roof was leaking so there was a lot of mold in the house," said French. "The kitchen cabinets, floors, bathroom, air conditioner system, windows and roof all had to be replaced."
Volunteers worked three days a week throughout the past few months, but it was a labor of love.
"It's a great opportunity to give some of the blessings I've had over the years to a community like this one and to get to know people here I would otherwise never have been able to know," said French.
Didi Hager, Habitat for Humanity family services manager, said it's that kind of relationship building that goes beyond the primary goal of constructing a new home or renovating an old one.
"Of course the impact to the community is important in terms of presenting a refurbished home because it provides a sense of community," said Hager. "But one aspect of this process is the friendships that are formed between the volunteers and homeowners. They spend a lot of time together through this process and a lot of them end up lifelong friends."
Jefferson said there is no way to describe how it feels to look around what is essentially a new home and know that her remaining years will be lived in comfort. While the shine off of new floors, cabinets and fixtures is still fresh inside the home, Jefferson calmly made her way past many volunteers to her favorite place on the new patio area.
There she sat, from there she waved at everyone and from there she showed off a smile worthy of her reputation.