Family has secure reason to give thanks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Suffolk Habitat for Humanity Inc. is celebrating another victory in its campaign to provide safe, decent and affordable homeownership opportunities to people who might ordinarily never realize this dream, and one family considers this the best Thanksgiving holiday ever.

On Tuesday, Suffolk Habitat dedicated its 15th house – the first ever handicapped-accessible unit. Mary and Mack Stephenson, both 60, graciously accepted the keys to their new home, located at 502 Lucerne Ave. in the Orlando community. The Stephensons believe they truly have a great deal to be thankful for during this holiday season.

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The couple is raising their granddaughter, Tashayla Ruffin, who suffers with cerebral palsy, and a grandson Talario Harvey. Ruffin’s mother died after suffering with lupus last year. Obviously, the Stephensons are quite excited about moving out of their cramped two-bedroom White Marsh Road apartment to their new house, which will make life a lot easier as they care for Tashayla.

The house is an added blessing because it will have a wheelchair ramp to accommodate Tashayla, who receives therapy at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughter. She attends Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

Mary, who was a single parent until marrying Mack 10 years ago, has known about Habitat since the 1970s. She didn’t pursue a home until a church member encouraged it. Mary remembers that the day she found out she would have a home of her own for the first time.

&uot;I received a call and the first thing they asked was, ‘Are you sitting down?’ I just started praising the Lord and thanking Jesus,&uot; recalled Mary. &uot;I’ve always wanted this and I didn’t know it would happen this soon. I told the Lord that I would serve him for the rest of my life.&uot;

Mack Stephenson said when he figured out what was going on, &uot;I started jumping along with her and crying.&uot;

He’s especially looking forward to having a yard. As a requirement, the Stephenson’s have put in plenty of &uot;sweat equity&uot; toward the construction of the house.

Numerous other volunteers, churches and organizations have also stepped up to the plate to make this chance at homeownership a reality.

The Zonta Club of Hampton Roads, which has a history of volunteer efforts with the Samaritan House charity, has also contributed to the completion of Suffolk Habitat’s 15th house. On Saturday, group members showed up with blinds, sheets, towels, bed coverings, and other accessories for the home.

&uot;This is the first time we’ve actually done something with a Habitat family, and we wanted to do something in Suffolk,&uot; explained Judy White, president of the Zonta Club. She added that Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority Executive Director Clarissa E. McAdoo, a member of the organization, suggested the Suffolk initiative.

South Hampton Roads Habitat for Humanity, Inc. has constructed 106 homes in South Hampton Roads since their inception in 1988.