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Formerly homeless family to move into Hagerstown Habitat home

November 19, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A family profiled in September in The Herald-Mail's series on homelessness will move into a new home built by the Habitat for Humanity Women Build program by Thanksgiving.

The house on Lanvale Street in Hagerstown will be dedicated and the family will receive the keys to its new home during a ceremony Sunday, said Sherry Brown Cooper, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Washington County.

Brown Cooper read about the family in The Herald-Mail. She knew it was the type of family for whom Habitat wants to build, she said.

"There is just such an attitude of grace and positiveness ... This is a family that does not take the hard knocks and let it just destroy their spirit," she said.

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The family saw the home for the first time about three weeks ago.

Since then, Charles Morgan, whose family will move into the home, keeps driving by it, he said Thursday.

"Everything is quiet, well-lit," he said. "I'm really, really happy with it."

Morgan compared the feeling to that felt by a child about a week before Christmas, when packages are waiting beneath the tree.

The family started packing its belongings about two weeks ago and will be ready to move in as soon as they receive the keys.

Charles Morgan's children -- ages 11, 12 and 14 -- are excited. By special permission, they will be able to remain in the schools they currently attend, Morgan said.

"All my kids are very smart," Charles Morgan said when interviewed for the September story. "I just want them to flourish."

He knows his children's strong grades were one of the deciding factors in the family getting a Habitat house, and they still are standouts, he said.

Brown Cooper also talked hopefully about the children.

"The children will be able to continue to excel, not worry where they need to live. They can be proud to bring other kids home," she said. "They're going to be able to focus on their future."

The family still feels a bit apprehensive, as though they will wake up and their dreams of a home will have been just that -- a dream, Morgan said.

"Once they give us the keys, we're paying the bills, it will be ours," he said.

Families who buy Habitat for Humanity homes must earn 500 hours of "sweat equity" -- working on build sites -- before settlement. The children's good grades will earn the family some of those hours, Brown Cooper said.

The family hasn't had the time to put in the "sweat equity" hours, so they will be leasing the home until they fulfill that requirement, Brown Cooper said.

They already have started logging their hours, with the children -- who are not old enough to be on Habitat job sites -- helping to put together Habitat mailings, Brown Cooper said.

The family of five has been staying in a Community Action Council apartment shelter since spring.

Janet Cole of the CAC recommended the Morgans when The Herald-Mail wanted to profile a family for its series on homelessness. They were interviewed in the sparsely furnished living room of their temporary apartment.

The mother, Tracey Morgan, worked for the Department of Social Services, but was laid off in April 2008 when her position was eliminated. She continued to look for other work, submitting more than 100 applications and sometimes driving as far as Montgomery County, Md., and Washington, D.C., for interviews.

"She had been in the position of working for a social services agency. All of a sudden, she's having to go to a social services agency to get help," Cole said.

Tracey Morgan lost her job shortly after they started renting a duplex. Charles Morgan continued to work, but their electric bills were more than expected last winter. After last Christmas, Charles Morgan's employer cut his hours. With only his 20-hour-a-week paycheck to support them, the family was evicted.

They first arrived at CAC looking for help April 24.

Since then, Tracey Morgan found an $8-an-hour housekeeping job and Charles Morgan is working 50 to 60 hours a week at his job.

This is the first time Cole knew of that a family has moved directly from one of the agency's apartment shelters into a Habitat home, she said.

"It's kind of like a miracle," Cole said.

Charles Morgan wanted to thank everyone who was supportive of his family.

Reading the story about his family in the newspaper was hard, but the encouragement and help he received in the days and weeks after "blew me away," he said.

"If they give us those keys on Sunday, I will have Thanksgiving for anybody that wants to knock on the door and get a plate," he said.

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