It was an unseasonably warm December afternoon on Soulshine Court in Habitat for Humanity’s Hudson Hills subdivision in West Asheville. A crowd of neighbors, volunteers and fans gathered around the work site for the wall-raising of Habitat’s 2015 Christmas Jam house. For 17 years, Warren Haynes, Asheville native and world renowned musician, has worked closely with the Asheville Area’s Habitat for Humanity. The “Before the Jam, Lend a Hand” event is the workhorse of the Christmas Jam and brings together volunteers from all over the country for two weeks before the concert event to build homes for families in need. To date, 33 new energy-efficient homes have been built by volunteers using proceeds from the Jam, including purchasing land and helping develop whole neighborhoods like the Hudson Hills subdivision.
Habitat homeowners-to-be Vicki Trantham and her adult son, Geoffrey Roper, a pastry chef at Filo, as well as Rowan, her 9-year-old son — plus members of the extended family — were on site to help raise the first two walls of their new home, which they hope to have complete by summer 2016. The family of three currently live in a rented trailer with substandard living conditions. “We never dreamed we’d finally have a home of our very own,” Trantham told the crowd during the event’s opening statements. “This has brought us a lot of hope just being around so many good people.”
Participants do not get a “free house,” but the program goes a long way to remove many of the obstacles to buying a new home. Habitat provides a home site, materials and labor at reduced costs. Applicant families have a zero percent interest mortgage, plus the mortgage payments go toward funding and completion of future homes in the neighborhood. Habitat homeowners are required to commit 200 hours of volunteer service time with a minimum of 50 hours onsite throughout the building process. “Thank you for participating in the 2015 Christmas Jam. Music builds houses and changes the lives of families like ours,” Trantham concluded.
Warren Haynes also commented on the impact this event has. “Meeting the families every year reminds us of how really important it is to keep going and supporting Habitat,” he said.
As the wall-raising gets started, people step forward onto the new decking of the sub-floor that was put in place earlier in the day. The walls go up without a hitch to the sound of hammers and boots thumping like a bass drum. Markers are distributed and people gather around to sign the walls and joists with best wishes for the new home and its occupants, while others take selfies with Warren and ask for his autograph on everything from hats to sneakers. The sun casts long shadows across the site. The work is done for the day and the tone has been set for the 27th Annual Christmas Jam.
All photos by Cindy Kunst.