Most people have heard of Habitat for Humanity, and many are probably aware of Catoosa Habitat for Humanity, but how many know the scope of what Catoosa Habitat and its many volunteers do?

Penny Mahon has been executive director of Catoosa Habitat for a year, though the group has been helping local residents since 1991. Mahon believes deeply in the mission of the organization and appreciates the way the community does, too.

"Catoosa County has heart," says Mahon. "So many people care about their neighbors and are willing to lend a helping hand."

Since it was founded by local citizens concerned about a shortage of affordable housing, Catoosa Habitat has built 17 homes, repaired many others, cleaned up people’s yards, built wheel chair ramps and more. After the Ringgold tornado, Catoosa Habitat worked with the community to repair 13 homes that were damaged by the storm.

One recent project for Catoosa Habitat was a response to a call for help. "A single mother who has two special needs children called to say she had no working bathroom in her house," says Mahon. By the time Catoosa Habitat finished, the woman had two working bathrooms, holes in her walls had been repaired, she had fresh paint, and the group cleaned up her yard and pressure-washed her house.

"Most of what we accomplish is done by volunteers, including the people we’re helping," says Mahon.

For those getting a new house, the adults in the families are required to work alongside volunteers for at least 300 hours ("sweat equity"). The new homeowners must also take a class in managing personal finances and in home ownership. Once in a new home, each family is assigned a family nurturer who can help them navigate the responsibilities and unknowns of owning a home.

"One lady," says Mahon, "had never had central heat and air or a dishwasher. Her family nurturer was able to help her learn how to use and care for those things."

Catoosa Habitat finances the houses itself, at no interest. Houses average 1,050 square feet and are made of sturdy, moderately-priced materials. Much of the material necessary to build a house is donated. "Whirlpool donates appliances," says Mahon. "Valspar donates paint, Shaw Industries donates flooring. Holcomb Garden Center donates what we need for landscaping. Local contractors often offer free labor."

Help from the community comes from every corner. Community National Bank in Ringgold has provided free office space for Catoosa Habitat for 14 years. The Ringgold High School football team did the landscaping on the last house Catoosa Habitat built. The Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Team is running a fundraiser this year for home repairs. Mt. Peria Missionary Baptist Church in Ringgold is also running a fundraiser. Local churches, schools and citizens regularly volunteer.

The Re-Habitat Critical Repair and Community Cleanup programs are two of Catoosa Habitat’s newer outreaches. "It’s just as important to clean up and repair as it is to build," says Mahon, "and it’s often more cost-effective."

All funding for Catoosa Habitat comes from businesses, individual donors and grants. "We also have our revolving fund from people paying on their mortgages," says Mahon. "Some people have already paid off their mortgages."

Mahon says the national Habitat for Humanity, which has a Georgia office, provides training and educational opportunities, as well as insurance and legal advice. "They also provide the value of name recognition and the trust that comes with it."

"We have so many wonderful people, groups and businesses who help us," says Mahon, "and we deeply appreciate every one of them."

To learn more about Catoosa County Habitat for Humanity, visit catoosahabitat.org.