Habitat for Humanity neighborhood still close after decades
By KRISTA JOHNSON
Aug. 19, 2018
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Through destruction and demolition came construction and implementation. A new community emerged in west Montgomery a little more than 20 years ago, giving families from across the city an opportunity at home ownership, as well as a desire to help others as they had been helped.
Nestled in what is a near-barren part of town across from Maxwell Air Force Base, Brenda Pinkston sits on her front porch most evenings, occupying one of the 16 homes that form the Litchfield neighborhood. Pinkston, who is most commonly known as Mrs. Brenda by those who live in and visit the neighborhood, was a single mother of two children when she began working with Habitat for Humanity to gain her spot in the nonprofit's first neighborhood in the city.
Her home was one of 10 built during a weeklong blitz in 1996. When her home was dedicated, she said "It was like Christmas in April."
The land in which the homes exist was formerly occupied by the Georgia Showcase Co., a producer of wood cases that relocated from Columbus, Georgia, to Montgomery in 1907 after a fire destroyed the company's building.
The business was liquidated in 1973 following the deaths of Frank Jr. and James Litchfield, who had taken it over from their father, who passed in 1965. Reliving its beginning-of-the-century fate, the Georgia Showcase Co. caught fire again in 1976, leaving the Litchfield family with the skeleton of a building that needed to come down.
The company occupied several acres of land, producing cases that can still be found across the city, such as those in the Alabama Department of Archives and History for example. The land sat empty for years until the Litchfield family decided to donate it in 1993.
One acre went to the West End Boys and Girls Club, where a new building was completed in 2000, replacing the adjacent facility that was built in 1938. About 6 acres went to Habitat, where 12 of the original 16 homeowners still reside.
Before Litchfield, Pinkston said she was living in a two-bedroom apartment on Court Street. She was at Community Action to get assistance on a utility bill when she ran into a man who told her about his new home, obtained by participating in the Habitat program. At the time, she had never owned a home, and wasn't in a position to buy one.
"He took me and showed me his house and said, 'Don't you want one?' and I said 'yeah'," Pinkston recalled.
The process of getting a Habitat for Humanity home included finding a sponsor to pay for the cost of building the home, and volunteering 400 hours — referred to as "sweat equity." Pinkston helped with measuring the vinyl siding and painting the inside of other Habitat homes.
That process, she said, helped her grow as a person.
"It made me want to do things, to help people, because I was helped," she said, adding that it also, "gave me stability and it brought me and my kids closer, because they had a home."
The neighborhood also came with its own park, and each of the homes was occupied by a family with children. Litchfield, Pinkston said, immediately buzzed with excitement.
"Everybody's kids knew everybody, and everybody took turns watching the kids in the park," she said.
"All the children grew up together. If one parent had to work at night, then her kids would come here after school," she said. "There was a lot of joy and happiness."
And even though time has passed, the community has lived on.
"Everyone has grown up — some went into the military, some went to college, some got married — but they always come back," Pinkston said.
The strong sense of community was also because each of the residents helped in building their neighbors' homes.
"We got to work along side each other, talking and getting to know one another," Pinkston's neighbor from two doors down, Nicholas Washington, said. Because of this, he said, "Everybody gets along, like a family."
He and his mother, Gloria Washington, moved into their home in 1997. A single-mother, it was also the first home Gloria had owned. Like Pinkston, the experience gave her the desire to "pay it forward."
"I'm grateful," she said. "I'm grateful that people took time out of their lives to help me," Gloria said.
Having paid off the home last year, she doesn't plan on moving.
"I love it," she said of her neighborhood. "I'm gonna stay here, unless God says otherwise."
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com