“May I say just one word?” asked Charlene Goolsby as she stepped into the center of the front room filled wall-to-wall with friends, family and supporters gathered to dedicate the Coffee County Habitat for Humanity’s 25th home.
“Mrs. Goolsby, you have never said just one word,” replied Coffee County Habitat for Humanity Board Member Daniel Stephens, flashing his trademark grin. “But that’s okay, you can say 100 words.”
Stephens, self-described as “the oldest rat in the barn on our board,” said that the dedication of the board’s 25th home would not be complete without thanking the woman who stepped down in June as president of the all volunteer organization that she has served since its inception in 1997.
“I don’t remember but just a few meetings that Miss Charlene wasn’t presiding over,” Stephens said. “Through her leadership we’ve gone from building three or four houses to 25.
“I remember when we didn’t have any money and we not only didn’t have any money, we didn’t have anything,” Stephens said. “But Miss Charlene would say, ‘We’re going to build a house,’ and we would start and somehow the Lord provided like she told us He would.
“You have really never been under any kind of pressure until you are in a board meeting about two days before Thanksgiving—and you’ve probably just poured the foundation of the house you were building— and Mrs. Goolsby would say, ‘Before we leave, I need to tell y’all I told those children that we’d be in this house at Christmas,’” Stephens said, shaking his head and smiling at the memory.
“And they always were. She would make it happen. Mrs. Goolsby is one of those individuals that nobody will ever tell ‘no’ to. She says, ‘Get it done and get it done right,’” Stephens said. “She adopted every family that we had. Her ‘family’ has grown 50 fold because when we started helping with a house, the family would become hers.”
But she did not do it alone, Stephens added. “When she says we’ll have that house ready by Christmas, that’s because of Eugene,” he said about Goolsby’s husband of 50 years. “He comes in at nighttime and he makes it happen.
“Mr. Eugene’s expertise doesn’t stop at plumbing and electricity. He can do anything—and if he can’t, Miss Charlene tells him he can and he does it,” Stephens said about the Enterprise Man of the Year for 1999. “There is not a house that we have that some part of it he hasn’t touched. We couldn’t do it without him.
“Their combined service, love, dedication and generosity has kept us going and will be sorely missed,” a visibly emotional Stephens said in closing. “Mrs. Goolsby is stepping back a little. This isn’t a goodbye because we do know that if we call for an answer, some help, some advice, they are going to say, ‘Of course, what do you want me to do?’”
That is true, Charlene Goolsby said earlier that week as she reflected on decades of volunteer service to the ecumenical Christian housing program that builds quality, energy efficient homes in partnership with low-income families.
The Enterprise Woman of the Year of 1997 was there when the first Habitat steering committee meeting was held on May 6, 1997. Elba First Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Rod Paul was the first board chairman. “The very first donation was made on Dec. 22, 1997 by Joe Harris from Martin Colley Drug Store in Enterprise,” Charlene Goolsby said.
There was a Wiregrass Habitat in Dothan but Coffee County people felt like they could support an affiliate here, Charlene Goolsby said. “It took about two years to get an affiliate status with all the paper work Habitat International required.”
In addition to Charlene Goolsby, original steering members still on the Coffee County Habitat for Humanity board are Billy Cotter and Stephens.
The first ground breaking for a Coffee County Habitat Home was late in the year 2000. That house was sponsored by First Baptist Church in Enterprise. “On Dec.7, 1999, at a habitat board meeting Dr. Tim Floyd from First Baptist Church in Enterprise presented a check for $43,614,” Charlene Goolsby said.
“That house was dedicated in 2001 and from there we went to Elba and built a house.
A third Habitat home was built in Enterprise with donations from individuals and the fourth was built with funds raised by the Sunrise Rotary Club of Enterprise. To date, six Habitat homes have been built in Elba and 19 in Enterprise.
Habitat for Humanity helps families who might not ordinarily qualify for conventional loans to become home owners. Individuals, churches, businesses, civic groups and others who provide vital financial support and volunteer labor make it possible to sell Habitat houses through no-profit mortgages. Habitat homeowners make down payments and perform sweat-equity hours by helping to build their homes and the homes of others. At closing they assume the mortgage on the homes.
“When I first became president of the Habitat board, I never dreamed I would stay there for 16 years,” she said with a smile. “But we kept having people that really needed homes.
“I just stayed because, well I don’t know, I just loved the families. I absolutely loved all my families,” Charlene Goolsby said. “Especially the children. When you see a little child that has never really had a decent place to live it makes me happy to know that I have helped that child have a decent place to call home.
“Every Habit for Humanity project is an act of faith, a miracle brought to life by the hearts and hands of those who believe that families deserve a chance to have a simple, decent, affordable place to live,” she added. “Our mission is about tearing down walls and building bridges. It is about offering hope and transforming lives. It is about serving God by serving others.”
Goolsby said one of her favorite homes was the Apostle Build Home initiated by the Coffee County Ministerial Association and sponsored by 10 area churches, Goolsby Plumbing and Electric and Snellgrove and Caylor Heating and Cooling. “That was fun and rewarding to work on because you had all different denominations coming together to work on a common goal.”
Charlene Goolsby said that the two things that bother her the most are the perception that Habitat was started by former President Jimmy Carter. “It wasn’t. He has promoted it and given it so much more publicity than it ever would have had but he did not start it,” she said.
The second mistaken perception is that the Habitat homes are free to the recipient. “They are not free. There is a mortgage. There is no profit to Habitat because that relies on volunteer labor and donations but the money that is generated every month from the mortgage payments goes back to build a Habitat house,” she explained. “Habitat is a tangible service. We touch the walls we help raise. We feel the heat of the tar paper as we nail down shingles. We smell the paint as we transform every room, every closet, every door frame into a shiny new surface. Along the way we befriend the new homeowners. Their smiles, the sparkle in their eyes, the warm hugs all connect us in ways far deeper than we can even realize.
“You get to know that you are really using your skills and your resources to really help make a difference,” she said. “We have been blessed with generous, loving individuals, businesses, organizations and churches who have provided resources and volunteer labor to build 25 homes in Coffee County.
“I would do it all over again,” Charlene Goolsby said stressing that due to some health issues, she is simply stepping back. “We’re not going to stop working for Habitat,” she said, with her bright blue eyes smiling.