VALDOSTA -- Drive down Jimmy Carter Drive's paved road and enter suburbia. Houses with fresh-cut lawns are numerous. Look to your left and see children home for the summer riding their bicycles. Look to your right and see a woman sitting on her porch swing relaxing in the morning sun.

It's hard to imagine that this neighborhood was once just a pile of lifeless dirt.

It has been one year since the 20th Habitat for Humanity Jimmy Carter Work Project began in Valdosta, when more than 800 volunteers from near and far came to Jimmy Carter Drive and created homes for Patricia Peak, Edna Minnis and 23 other families.

The process of Patricia Peak's new home began in the dark, early hours of Thanksgiving morning 2001, when she came home from helping her sister prepare Thanksgiving dinner and found her home of eight years engulfed in flames.

"I think I was more amazed than anything because when I left my house I didn't feel like I would come back and something would be wrong," Patricia said.

The fire, caused by a short in an electric heater, ruined Patricia's home, but even after it was extinguished, it put a strain on her family.

With no place to go besides the homes of relatives, Patricia and her three sons, DeAngleo Berry, Joseph Berry and Gerod Berry, were forced to split up for a year and a half.

"It was hard because I was just used to having my kids under my wing, Patricia said. "I lost control. It was hard to deal with."

Her sons didn't get to live together for most of that time.

"(The boys) never actually stayed together unless they stayed the night or the weekend together," Patricia said.

With no home to call her own anymore, Patricia decided to apply for one of Habitat's Jimmy Carter Work Project houses.

"After my house burned, I decided I would give it a shot," Patricia said. "The first initial application was denied, so I put in another application and I was approved."

Patricia and all of her sons helped in some way to build the house they now call home.

Gerod and Joseph were too young at the time to work on the home, so they worked in Habitat for Humanity's warehouse, but DeAngelo worked on the roof.

"Everyone got a chance to put a helping hand in (the house)," Patricia said. "It makes you take care of it,"

Looking back a year later, Patricia believes the fire was an act of fate.

"I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and I am thankful for everything that happened," Patricia said. "The fire was a stepping stone because the house I was in, I owned it, but the house had major problems; the roof was leaky and it needed some plumbing work. It was a very old house."

She is thankful that she and her boys have a place where they can call home.

"There's been more stability," Patricia said. "I went from living with my sister to a house of my own so I have somewhere that my boys and I can call home now."

Patricia, who is a store manager at Mr. B's Market, still stays in touch with the volunteers who helped build her home.

"I think I had the best crew out of everyone," she said. "My personality and their personalities went together. We were connected."

Edna Minnis's new home didn't start with a fire, but it also began with some turmoil.

She felt like her family was falling apart. She was living with her granddaughter and her four children in a three-bedroom home, with only one bathroom for the six of them.

"It was just overcrowded," Edna says. "It seemed like ... by being cramped in there, our attitudes became overwhelming. One bathroom, three bedrooms and all these people; it was just chaos."

Edna had an application for a year before she sent it in. She didn't think she would qualify for a home.

However, one day at work she got a call from Habitat for Humanity that would change her life.

"They must have thought I was a crazy woman when they called me," she said. "Instead of saying thank you, I said 'Oh God, thank you Lord, thank you Lord,' and the lady said, 'Are you still there? '"

When Edna worked on her new home, it wasn't the first time she had volunteered for Habitat for Humanity.

She had, and still, volunteers at the ReSell store, a store run by Habitat for Humanity that sells building supplies. She helped build some homes on Cypress Street in 2003.

Edna will never forget meeting and working alongside former President Jimmy Carter.

"I had always wanted to meet him," Edna said. "It was just another page in my book of life. It was a dream fulfilled. He's a wonderful man. He's down to Earth. I thought that by him being a former president that he wold have had that ice attitude, but no way. He's as common as dirt."

When she hugged Carter, Edna split her pants.

"I got some duct tape and fixed them up," she said.

She feels her new home has helped her family a lot.

"I feel more independent now," she says. "I have a more independent attitude and a better outlook on life. Now we have enough bedrooms and enough bathrooms. They use theirs and, thank God, I use mine."

Edna is still getting adjusted to her new home.

"I'm still hanging pictures and getting furniture in," she says. "You can say I'm still in a new beginning."

She also welcomed a new addition to her family soon after she moved in into her new home.

"God blessed me with a new home and then he blessed me with a great-grandson," Edna says. "He'll never know the poverty of that (old) home."

Valdosta-Lowndes County Habitat for Humanity is still going strong a year later. It is is finishing its 100th home since it started in 1987 and built its first home in 1988.

"We're only one of six affiliates in Georgia that have built 100 homes," said Charlotte Christian, Habitat for Humanity director.

Habitat for Humanity has also completed 12 more houses in the Jimmy Carter neighborhood and they are currently working on two more.

"We hope to build 18 to 20 houses this year," Charlotte says.

She said they have already built seven homes and they started building number eight Saturday.

Charlotte is proud of the hundreds of volunteers who have worked so hard over the past year.

"We're proud of the community," she said. "They've been so great. It's been a long year but we couldn't have done it without community support."

Anybody interested in volunteering for Habitat for Humanity can call Patti Henderson, volunteer coordinator, at 245-1330.

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