It was a local mom’s last wish to see her daughter become the owner of a newly refurbished house.
A group of civic and community organizations along with a local church have been working to make Charlotte Hillard’s dream come true for her daughter, Anastasia.
Debra Johnson, leader of St. John’s parish fellowship ministry, called the recent home rehabilitation efforts “Anna’s House Habitat Project.” She said the exterior of the house had been greatly improved through an extensive remodeling effort through the city of Oklahoma City’s Homeowners Exterior Maintenance Program.
A recent project to improve the house’s interior was conducted through the Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity’s Critical Home Repair Program. The completed renovations to Anastasia Hillard’s northeast Oklahoma City home amounted to a complete interior overhaul. Volunteers, including many from St. John Missionary Baptist Church, worked on Hillard’s home Aug. 18-27.
Volunteers worked on the home’s bathroom, installing new shower faucets, a vanity and toilet. In the kitchen, they worked on plumbing, including washer/dryer hookups, drainage, faucets and the sink. New flooring was installed in many parts of the home, a hot water tank was replaced and a hole in the dining room ceiling was repaired.
Anastasia Hillard, 28, worked alongside Johnson and several groups of volunteers during the Habitat for Humanity project. She said she was happy to see all of the plans for her home come to fruition and that her mother, who died several years ago, would have been pleased, as well.
“My mother would be very thankful if she could be here,” Hillard said, as she looked around her upgraded home.
Johnson said she was ecstatic.
She said the Habitat for Humanity volunteers, led by Erich Font, the agency’s Critical Home Repair Program manager, even performed some work that was unexpected, such as installing new cabinets in Hillard’s kitchen and a new shower door for the bathroom.
“I’m just thrilled for Anna,” Johnson said. “I saw the condition of her home and wanted her to have the things that we all took for granted in her home.”
Mom on a mission
Johnson said she served as youth ministry leader at St. John’s for 17 years and Anastasia Hillard was 12 when she first began to mentor her. Johnson said she got to know Charlotte Hillard over the years and learned that the loving mom wanted to see that her daughter, who has a disability, would have a home after her death.
Before her death several years ago, Charlotte Hillard told Johnson that she wanted to fix up the rental home where she and Anastasia had lived for many years. Johnson said she did some research and found that only homeowners were able to qualify for most of the programs that would help with the kind of extensive work that was needed. Nevertheless, the ministry leader said she told the disabled Hillard that she would continue to pursue the plan she had for her daughter.
Anastasia Hillard said Johnson was like a “second mom” to her.
“I knew she was special and I knew she had a good heart — she reminded me of my mother,” Anastasia said of Johnson.
There was just one barrier to the plan: Anastasia wasn’t the owner of the house.
Johnson said she contacted the Hillard’s longtime landlord and explained the situation to him. She asked him to consider forgiving a debt the Hillard’s owed him and deeding the house to Anastasia, who could then gain help with improvements to the structure. When the landlord agreed to the plan and Anastasia became the owner of the house, Johnson helped her apply for several home programs.
“For him to say ‘yes’ would be a life changer,” Johnson said. “The Bible says ‘Ask and you shall receive’ and I just had enough courage to ask and it was what her mom verbally asked me to do.”
Ann Felton Gilliland, chairman and chief executive officer of Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity, said her organization’s Critical Home Repair Program planned to conduct improvement projects for 75 homeowners like Anastasia this year. She said the agency hoped to expand its reach next year to do 100 such projects.
Font, operations manager for the Critical Home Repair Program, said the program has been around for about 13 years and it could not be offered without generous donations from the community. He said money from the sale of new and gently used furniture, appliances, home goods, building materials and other items at Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores also help fund the Critical Home Repair Program.
The program is designed to aid homeowners who may struggle to maintain their homes due to a variety of limitations such as age, disability, income and other circumstances. Font said there is a consistent need for the program and its ultimate goal is to help individuals and families with repairs that will make their houses safer and allow them to live in them longer.
“It’s a constant labor of love that we’re doing,” he said.
And Font said the home program wouldn’t be successful without volunteers.
Among the volunteers who worked on the Hillard home was Luz Hernandez, who was helping her family perform “sweat equity” required in advance of Habitat for Humanity’s repair project for her mother’s home.
Another volunteer was St. John’s member Mark Clayborne, who said he had been working on the project with his son Mark Woodford Clayborne, a student at nearby Classen School of Advanced Studies at Northeast. He said he wanted to help with the rehab work for Anastasia but also to help make her street and neighborhood a better place.
“It’s the Eastside and we want to beautify it and make more homes beautiful and livable on the Eastside,” he said.
The Rev. Major Jemison, senior pastor of St. John’s, shared similar thoughts. He thanked the city of Oklahoma City and Habitat for Humanity for their efforts to collaborate with the church to aid Anastasia Hillard.
“It’s a great job,” he said. “It is only the beginning for us and we’re looking forward to whatever else the Lord is going to do with us as we move deeper inside the northeast quadrant of Oklahoma City.”
Johnson said a housewarming event for Anastasia is being planned.