Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity celebrates 40 years of building community

Updated August 4, 2023 at 12:37 p.m.

In 1983, Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity joined the international community of Habitat for Humanity, taking on the united mission of spreading love and hope amid the locales they serve. Since then, CEHFH has built more than 150 houses for families throughout Chatham County and over a quarter of those families have paid off their mortgages. 2023 marks 40 years of dedicated service empowering local families to become homeowners, and the nonprofit is celebrating this momentous anniversary in a big way. On Saturday, Aug. 26, the organization will host a 40th birthday celebration and the entire community is invited. 

“We want it to be a whole bunch of fun. We want to celebrate our mission, [which is] . . . to put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, community and hope, so this [celebration] is the community and hope aspect,” said Ava Mattox, CEHFH’s development manager. 

The celebration will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the nonprofit’s ReStore, which is located at 701 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. There will be bouncy houses, face painting, yard games, food trucks, music, nonprofit and business vendors and more. Mayor Van Johnson will  present a special proclamation in honor of CEHFH’s 40th anniversary. And the birthday bash will also include a mortgage burning ceremony to celebrate partner families that have paid off their mortgages. 

Beyond the August event, CEHFH will continue to celebrate the anniversary with fun festivities throughout the remainder of the year and into 2024. 

“We have a full year of celebrations planned. We will have our gala on Dec. 1, which is always a lot of fun. . . It’s the one time of year where our faithful volunteers get to meet some of the donors and corporate businesses that come and build with us and the partner families too. The whole village comes together,” said Mattox. “Then in March, we have Women’s Build Month in partnership with the National Association of Women in Construction, the Coastal Georgia chapter. We will also have Savannopoly [in October] during which some local artists will come together and paint different pieces of Savannah, and it’s a fundraiser for us. . .  So there are lots of different ways to celebrate the 40th.”

Through the years, CEHFH has worked to help meet the city’s urgent need for secure, affordable housing by helping local families to purchase their first home. 

“There is a misconception that we just give homes away. But our partner families, which is what we call people who are going through our program, have to meet a lot of different requirements before they are accepted into the program. We evaluate families based on need, ability to pay and willingness to partner,” Mattox explained. 

At the beginning of the process, CEHFH will go into applicant families’ homes and assess needs.

“We’re seeing if they’re paying too much for rent, if it’s overcrowded, if there’s mold growing, if the ceilings are dilapidated. Is it in a safe environment and other factors,” she said.

Then, they will determine whether families have the ability to pay a mortgage, which is typically more affordable because the homes are built by volunteers. 

“Where a regular company would have to pay contractors to come in and rent equipment, we have people who volunteer and donate their time,” Mattox continued. 

The last criterion is willingness to partner. CEHFH requires families to invest their own time and effort during the process.

“Before our partner families go to the closing table, they have to do 350 sweat equity hours. Sweat equity means they are working in our ReStore, in our office, or out on the job site on their own homes or their neighbors’ homes,” she explained.

In addition to sweat equity, families also complete skills training and financial literacy courses to prepare them for home ownership so that they can be successful and set a solid foundation for generational wealth.  Applications for Habitat for Humanity open once annually, and families must make between 35 and 80 percent of the median income to qualify. 

Community members can help support the mission at CEHFH in several ways.

“Come to our events and volunteer. We always say we have donors of time, talent and treasure, so we accept donations, financial donations, in-kind donations and donations of time. Every event has a different way to get involved with us, but I would really encourage people to come out to the construction site and see what it’s all about,” said Mattox.

She said being on the construction site is her favorite thing about being a part of CEHFH. 

“You get to see the house from start to finish and work alongside those partner families. It’s not a handout. You’re literally raising the walls together and it creates this community environment where it’s a partnership. . . This is why we’re doing what we do. And then when you get to the home dedication or the closing table, it’s always in a lawyer’s office and really solemn and serious. So we’ve started a thing where we’ll come in with balloons and a speaker playing ‘Celebrate Good Times, Come On!’ It’s a long hard process and it’s so important because these are first-time homebuyers and they’re making a difference for their family from here on out,” Mattox expressed.

She continued, “Habitat is not for a certain person. It really is for your average citizen who is making ends meet and [trying] to get the American dream. You’re given the opportunity to be a homeowner and it’s not anything to be ashamed of. You put in a lot of hard work and then and the end, you are a homeowner and you’re building a foundation for generations to come. We’re excited to celebrate 40 years and all the families that have built and continue to build that generational wealth and give back to their community. They’re able to do that because they have the stability of a home.”

To learn more about Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity and their 40th anniversary celebration, visit

Published August 4, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.


Chantel Britton

Chantel Britton is a compelling storyteller with an ever-growing curiosity. She's built a rewarding writing career for herself in addition to serving five years as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. She's an NPR nerd with a deep passion for all things travel, sustainable living and adventure. She...
Comments (0)
Add a Comment

  • or

Right Now On

By Film...

By Theater...