Wineka column: Thrivent, Habitat make dream come true for mom with 11 kids

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 7, 2012

SPENCER — Ask Darlene Gray how many rental houses she has lived in over the years, and she pauses a moment to do the calculations.
It’s at least five or six, Darlene says, and she and her family have lived at their current home on the southern edge of Spencer less than a year.
But Gray’s nomadic adventures in housing will change dramatically this summer when she moves into a new four-bedroom, two-bath house at 606 Grants Crossing Lane in Spencer.
It’s the home Gray intends to retire in many years from now, thanks to the partnership between Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Habitat for Humanity.
“It means a whole lot — I don’t know how to put it into words,” Gray says.
The Grants Crossing house will be the first house the 54-year-old Gray has ever owned. “It’s a blessing, it really is,” she says.
Gray, a single mother of 11 children and grandmother to nine, has her hands full as always. She works a third-shift, group home job for RHA Health Services Inc.
Back home, family members living with her now include 25-year-old son Aaron; 13-year-old twin sons, Desmond and DeAndre; 12-year-old granddaughter Jamaria; and 20-year-old daughter Sierra, who is attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Habitat for Humanity approved Darlene for a home last November, and she originally planned to be moving into the Catherine Huffman-sponsored house, which is nearing completion next door.
But she realized her situation was dramatically changing when Aaron, who was living and working in Columbia, S.C., with his twin sister, Alicia, became terribly sick and was hospitalized in February with high blood pressure and failing kidneys.
Gray has been working tirelessly in recent weeks to help with his recovery. Aaron has moved back to Salisbury so he can be with his mother, who drives him to dialysis three days a week from 7:15 to 11 a.m.
Aaron will be on a kidney transplant list. Meanwhile, the goal is for him to move to home dialysis, which will give him more independence.
At home, he could do his dialysis at night and have time to go back to work or school during the day. But Aaron’s return and his special needs meant that Darlene required a bigger home by at least one bedroom.
Habitat refocused, moving another family up the list for the previous home and starting construction on a four-bedroom place for the Gray family.
Darlene has had to leave work for a couple of weeks during Aaron’s illness to help with his diet, medications and trips to the doctor and dialysis.
“When I get him sort of situated,” she says, “I can go back to work.”
Thrivent Financial for Lutherans has been an important partner with Habitat for Humanity through its “Thrivent Builds Homes” and “Thrivent Builds Worldwide” programs.
From 1991 to 2005, Thrivent Financial and its predecessor organizations built 500 homes.
But after formalizing its relationship with Habitat for Humanity in 2005, Thrivent Builds has constructed 2,714 additional homes.
In 2012, Thrivent Financial will be funding 142 more homes nationwide — and coordinating much of the volunteer Lutheran labor to build them.
Darlene Gray’s house will be one of those new homes. She has been working on other Habitat houses in Rowan County as part of building up the sweat equity hours that are required of new homeowners.
She finds the work rewarding. Hanging a door, helping with the wiring, hammering in nails and painting — “that’s what so great,” Darlene says.
“I don’t want to stop, even after my house is built,” she adds.
A formal groundbreaking on her house is scheduled for this coming Saturday, although work on the foundation already has started.
David Linker of Grace Lutheran Church works with Thrivent Financial’s southwest chapter in Rowan County. Barry Ritchie of St. Matthew’s Lutheran coordinates through the East chapter. Together, they line up the county’s Lutheran churches and their volunteers for a Habitat project.
At the Habitat office, Jane Hartness works out construction schedule for the churches. There’s a general meeting, which church representatives attend and decide the days they’ll work and what jobs they will perform.
Linker’s Grace Lutheran Church usually takes on, for example, the job of putting up rafters and nailing down the roof decking for shingles.
Other churches might sign up for hanging sheetrock, painting walls and ceilings, laying floors or putting up the vinyl siding.
“Jane has a pretty good work schedule,” Linker says.
Everything is coordinated, too, with Habitat Construction Supervisor David Rowh.
Because of its good track record, Rowan County is one of only seven locations in North Carolina to which Thrivent Financial made a national donation for a Habitat home this year.
“We’re kind of proud of that,” Linker said.
Worldwide, almost 500,000 volunteers have worked on Habitat homes sponsored by Thrivent Financial, and they have donated more than three million hours of labor.
Darlene Gray’s whole family will be working on their new home as spring turns into summer. In coming weeks, she’ll be deciding on things like colors for the house and shutters or picking out counter tops and light fixtures.
“I can’t express enough how much of a blessing it really is,” Gray says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or