For Brandie Mack and her sons, the two-year process to move into their very own home is reaching fruition. And if all goes well, they will be moving into their brand new house in or around the first of August.
Brandie Mack is the mother of four sons: Vinnqua Mack, age 19; Bryson Mack, age 11; Xzayvion Mack, age 9; and Damontae Mack, (3). And she's one of the oldest Van Alstyne families — the Murphy family.
The plan started at National Night Out's yearly gathering in 2015, where Brandie Mack, while in the midst of enjoying the activities with her youngsters, happened upon the Grayson County Habitat for Humanity booth.
“They talked with me about the process, and had an application there,” Mack said. “I filled it out on the spot.”
And that began the whole process, but it hasn't been easy for her. There are many requirements for anyone to become a recipient are many Habitat's Executive Director Laurie Mealy, said.
“It isn't charity, as some people believe,” she said. “For any applicant to be qualified they need to meet three requirements: (1) They need to be in need of house; (2), they must have the ability to make the house payments; and (3) they have to be part of the process. Yes, it is for low income people and yet they have to be able to pay for it. A good rent history helps. We want them to be successful homeowners. Circumstances, willingness and ability to be a partner are important.”
“Brandie would be the first to admit, 'This is hard, but anything hard can be very much worth the effort,'” Mealy added. “It brings tears to your eyes when you talk to people about their personal difficulties, and yet if you wind up being a habitation (recipient), you get zero percent interest on a 25-30 mortgage. You have to set your goals high and work hard to get it.”
After filling out the application that October, Mack said she heard back from Habitat in December, wanting to come and visit with her. They visited and the Habitat representative took the information back to the committee. Another seven weeks passed, and then Mack began getting instructions on her pre-acceptance involvement. First, she had to complete a 9-week budget class held at the First United Methodist Church, the first time ever, she said, it had been held in Van Alstyne. She then had to begin working on other Habitat homes under construction, completing a designated number of “sweat equity” hours.
“You never know when you are next in line,” Mack said. “But they let you know when they are close to getting ready to build. I was working on a (Habitat) house in Denison when they let me know, that was maybe November 2016. The committee decided on a 4-bedroom house and I picked out a floor plan.”
“It's a God thing that I was accepted,” Mack said with a certainty in her voice. “I'm a very shy person. I saw the booth and was second-guessing myself, but something made me sign up anyway. Nothing like that ever happens to me.”
Mack said a lot of the process is like a puzzle, and it all has to fit in place before you get the whole picture. This included that they could not begin on her house until the dedication of the one in Denison, on which everybody was diligently working at the time.
Donating and volunteering
It had been since 2010 when Habitat for Humanity had been able to provide a home for a Van Alstyne family. Part of that delay, Mack and Mealy said, is because they only had one lot to build on. So far, Habitat has always built on donated lots.
Volunteers are critical to the whole process, explained Habitat for Humanity Construction Supervisor Dean Hambrecht.
“We need more volunteers,” Mealy said, adding that the volunteer process for all areas of providing help is on the 501(c)3 non-profit organization's website, GraysonHabitat.org.
It's not just a matter of showing up with hammer in hand, Mealy said. Volunteers need to sign up and can use that website, and there is a clearing process, then, that Habitat must complete on each volunteer.
Mack's house is being built on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There is a need, at times, for a few volunteers to be on site, such as this past week when materials were to be delivered on Tuesday. Someone was there to accept and sign for those materials.
“Sub-contractors, such as electrical and plumbing contractors, are squeezed in on those days when we are not there,” Mealy said.
And of course, there's always a need for funding, including cash donations or fundraisers being held for Habitat for Humanity.
“Even if they can't work on the house, volunteers can provide lunch,” Mack said. “So far, Texas Star Bank, the Cowboy Church, and Golden Chick have provided lunch for us.”
That sign-up process, too, is on the website. And Holy Family Catholic Church is one group that has already signed up to provide a future lunch.
There's also a need for donated lots.
“We've been able to sustain the program with donated lots, so far; in the future, though, I don't know,” Mealy said. “For now, all of our lots have been donated for us.”
At this time there are no others yet available in Van Alstyne.
The Mack's house has a unique need too, that Mealy is hoping persons in the community can help with. The drainage, coming off of Waco Street, runs heavy in front of the house, then flows in between the Mack home and the vacant home on its east side. This required Habitat to set the house farther back from the roadway, making it necessary to build a longer driveway, and that requires more concrete. Also, there is a need for a new and more adequate culvert to go beneath that new driveway.
The Mack family
When asked how they are all psyching up to move into the house, Brandie Mack said with a smile that everyone is in shock.
“The kids are very involved with sports, they are Cowboys fans, they all want to design their own room and they all want those rooms to be in Dallas Cowboy décor,” she said. “They laugh when arguing about whose room is bigger. They visit during the week, and are excited and proud of their rooms. They are making lists of who they want to spend the night. My mom has already declared that Thanksgiving will be here this year.”
As for Brandie herself, she said it's exciting just to get to work on her own home. Being there during construction, she's been able to catch errors before they became real problems.
Hambrecht is a transplanted Texan who worked with a road department, an EMS crew, and building construction during the decades he lived in Wisconsin. He said he and his wife moved to Texas “for the weather,” and that he had been here about six months when he walked into the Habitat office and applied.
“This an extremely good core group,” Hambrecht said about this group of people building the Mack home. “They're extremely talented and resourceful and passionate about what they are doing. And they do an awesome job. I believe they producing a superior product and in the end, we are helping with the local tax base, taking a vacant lot and turning it into a valuable, taxable advantage.”
Mealy and Hambrecht said they hope to be able to dedicate the Mack home in August. Habitat has its next project scheduled to be built in Denison, and will begin once this current project is completed and dedicated.
“We could have started on a house for Brandie and her family in Denison six months sooner, but she wanted to live in Van Alstyne. She's been a lifetime resident here, and wanted to stay in her hometown, near her family (of origin) and her church and friends,” Hambrecht said.
So what does Brandie Mack say when people ask her about applying for a Habitat house?
“I try to tell them get on the list,” she said. “It may be an easy process, if people are willing to give their (sweat) equity and willing to help others to get their homes and dreams; but it isn't a quick process. It's part of a long-term housing solution. There's the application, the education proponent, sweat equity, credit and back check and references, and budget and more homework. But it is a long-term housing solution for your family.”
For more information visit GraysonHabitat.org. and click on the “Build Schedule,” “Volunteer,” or “Donate” links.
Mealy said she is hoping to have a booth and information available at the June 27 Music in the Park event, at Dorothy Fielder (gazebo) Park in downtown Van Alstyne. That event runs from 6-8 p.m.