Groundbreaking ceremony at the Port Wentworth development.
Groundbreaking ceremony at the Port Wentworth development.

Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity looks to future developments while Celebrating 40 Years of Service

Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity hosted its annual meeting on Thursday, June 27, at SCAD's Poetter Hall. The grand finale event wrapped up their 40th year of service, gave a recap of the work done during the 2023–24 year, elected new members and officers, and gave a glimpse into the future.

"We don't just build houses; we build homes," said the current board president, Kirk Gilbert. "Through sweat equity and side-by-side work with volunteers, we empower families to achieve the strength, stability, and self-reliance they need for a brighter future."

Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity joined Habitat for Humanity International in 1983, bringing the mission of hope and homeownership to our community.

click to enlarge Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity looks to future developments while Celebrating 40 Years of Service
Kaitlin Sells
(L-R) Kirk Gilbert, Board President, Annette Ogletree-McDougal, Board Vice President and Zerik Samples, CEO, Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity

"We are thrilled to celebrate 40 years of impactful leadership and building foundations for generations at Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity," said Zerik Samples, the CEO of Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity. "This event is a chance to honor our past, recognize our dedicated volunteers and supporters, and look ahead to the next chapter of serving families in need of affordable housing."

The annual meeting celebrated and highlighted key milestones, including constructing more than 160 homes, paying off over 45 mortgages, the first Build-A-Thon event in 1997, 100 homes built by 2009, and the reopening of the Habitat ReStore in 2015, which helps provide ongoing funding for the organization.

The ReStore accepts donations of new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, and building materials from individual households and businesses. The organization noted that these factors have created a strong, supportive network for partner families.

click to enlarge Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity looks to future developments while Celebrating 40 Years of Service
Kaitlin Sells
Stakeholders, volunteers, past and present board members, and more gather at the annual meeting.

According to their annual report for 2023, there were 2,199 volunteers who donated 10,606 hours of their time to the organization, helping them build five homes last year. Many others participated in other training offered, including disaster preparedness, safety, career, and financial literacy.

“At our heart, we're driven by the mission to build, rehabilitate, and remove barriers to homeownership for our families. We empower these families to achieve the strength, stability, and self-reliance they need to create a brighter future for themselves,” said Gilbert.

Over the past year, they have hosted numerous events, including their 40th birthday celebration in August, Savannopoly, Hops for Habitat, Women’s Build Month in March, and the Home for the Holiday Gala.

“Everybody gets excited for our events. The first year that we did the Home for the Holiday Gala, we raised about $111,000. In our second year, we raised $175,000. Together, my prayer is that we bring in more than $250,000 at this event this year,” said Samples.

click to enlarge Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity looks to future developments while Celebrating 40 Years of Service
Kareem McMichael
SCAD was a sponsor for the annual meeting. The event was held at SCAD's Poetter Hall.

During the program, the organization honored the contributions of several past Executive Directors, including Harold Tessendorf, Michael Weathers, Virginia Brown, and Diane Cantor. The organization will also recognize outgoing board members Jed Young and Keaven Jackson for their years of service.

Volunteers were also recognized as the backbone of the Coastal Empire Habitat, contributing thousands of hours annually. Two volunteers were honored, Mr. and Mrs. Nutt, who received the 2024 Love and Commitment Award.

“For over 20 years, Mr. and Mrs. Nutt have been the embodiment of dedication and compassion. Their tireless commitment to volunteering has left an indelible mark on our organization and the countless families we serve,” said Megan Lipsey, Volunteer Coordinator.

Lipsey also spoke about other ways to volunteer, including on the construction sites, Team Build, at the ReStore, and through advocacy.

“The work that we do year in and year out could not be possible without our huge network of dedicated volunteers. I'm happy to announce that we have over 2,000 volunteers that volunteer with Habitats on an annual basis,” said Samples.

click to enlarge Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity looks to future developments while Celebrating 40 Years of Service
Kaitlin Sells
New and present board members.

At the meeting, they also elected several new board members: DeLisa Clift, Meechelle Kent, Kelly Johnson, Raydell Martin, Kurtina Pollen, Kit Trainor, and Temperance West. A group that will help them with growth as they expand into Bryan and Liberty counties.

“I always want to bring people together—people from different races, different nationalities, and all walks of life. I am glad that we have different counties working together, and we see a need in other areas to grow our mission,” said Samples.

In addition to expanding developments into Bryan and Liberty County in the next year, the organization announced other plans for expansion as well.

“We're thrilled to share a glimpse into the future." We're breaking ground on 10 brand-new construction projects, which will provide families in our community with the safe and secure homes they deserve,” said Annette Ogletree-McDougal, the current board vice president who has been elected president for the upcoming year.

She also announced that, as a part of their aging in place initiative, they are implementing a program called "Capable" in partnership with Hospice Savannah. Through this partnership with Lowes, they will work to provide home repairs and modifications aimed at helping existing homeowners age comfortably and safely within their own homes.

“Former President Bill Clinton once said, ‘We cannot build our own future without helping others to build theirs.’ I hope people will help us build everlasting homes for people. Come help us to make a difference,” said Ogletree-McDougal.

click to enlarge Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity looks to future developments while Celebrating 40 Years of Service
Bunny Ware
The Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity breaks ground at the Port Wentworth site.

Earlier in June, the Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity broke ground on a development in Port Wentworth. The infrastructure works for the project will be completed in 2025, marking progress for the 83 homes to be built on the site in the partnership between Chatham County, the City of Port Wentworth, and the Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity.

“I'm reminded why I'm here at Habitat for Humanity. It's because we are able, as a community, to come together to create a sense of home. Home is not necessarily a door that you open, a bed that you lay in, or a room that you go to, but it's a sense where you can let your burden down. A place where you can embrace your friends and your family and have a great time in the comfort of your own home. That's what we're building year in and year out at Habitat for Humanity,” said Samples.

To learn more about the Coastal Empire Habitat for Humanity, see their full annual report, and find out the events for 2025, visit https://www.habitatsavannah.org/.

     

Kareem McMichael

Kareem McMichael is a filmmaker, documentarian, writer, and multimedia content creator. The Macon native enjoys entertainment, and sharing with locals and visitors’ stories about Savannah’s art and culture scene. When he is not working, he enjoys relaxing at the beach, grabbing a beverage, hitting a fun art event,...
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