VALDOSTA -- Valdosta's Habitat for Humanity organization has built 46 houses since 1988 with one more near completion. However, 37 of those were built in the last six years.

Why the sudden surge in new homes? The answer is simple. Six years ago, the organization became a United Way of Lowndes County agency.

"We are now averaging one house per month," said Ralph Jackson, director. "We have built 13 houses in the last 13 months."

Their 47th house is scheduled for completion today.

"The mother of the family getting the house this weekend said with the money she will save on rent, she is going to go back to college," Jackson said. "For her, this program is really opening some doors to the future. Plus, she will be in a decent house and her three kids will have their own bedrooms."

Jackson said Valdosta was one of 10 communities selected as one of the top in the nation working to eliminate substandard housing.

"This is a big honor," Jackson said.

Of course, none of this would be possible without help from the United Way of Lowndes County.

Jackson said United Way funds are used for administrative costs such as office materials, utilities and staff salaries.

"We have a construction supervisor and an office manager on staff as well," Jackson said. "The United Way has helped us tremendously. They are one of the reasons we are able to build so many houses and get so much done in this community."

Even though habitat would suffer without volunteers, a paid staff and well-run office is necessary. Full-time employees manage homeowners mortgages, collecting payments and interacting with families on a regular basis.

Jackson said his group plans to build 15 more houses next year, including an all woman's build.

Valdosta's Habitat for Humanity, founded by Christ Episcopal Church, is one of 1,900 affiliates worldwide of Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit, nondenominational housing organization.

Since 1976, habitat has built more than 100,000 houses in more than 79 countries, including some 30,000 houses across the United States.

Habitat builds simple, decent, affordable houses for those in need of adequate shelter. Houses are sold at no profit with no interest charged on the mortgage. Monthly payments are $250.

Homeowners and volunteers build the houses under trained supervision with funds provided by individuals, corporations, churches, and many others.

For information about volunteer opportunities with Valdosta's Habitat for Humanity, please call 245-1330.

For information, about the United Way of Lowndes County, please call 242-2208 or 245-1222.

Donations can be mailed to the United Way of Lowndes County at P.O. Box 925, Valdosta, Ga. 31603.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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