Habitat photo

Misty Pucciarelli, left, and LaStarr Engram, fourth from left, observe as volunteers at the Wilson Habitat for Humanity fall build drive home a nail on Saturday in what will be their new homes in a few months. The construction will be a two-unit townhome, and Pucciarelli and Engram will be neighbors.

Two local families took their first steps toward becoming homeowners this weekend as Wilson Habitat for Humanity began work on its next two houses on Western Avenue in Lebanon.

Misty Pucciarelli said, “It hit me this morning. That these houses were for me and Starr.”

By “Starr,” Pucciarelli is referring to LaStarr Engram, the recipient for the other townhome unit on the property. “It’s great that we already know each other,” she said.

They became good friends through the program that preps them for homeownership, and both said they are looking forward to being neighbors.

Wilson Habitat for Humanity Community Relations Manager Veronica Anderson explained that to receive a home, individuals had to complete courses offered through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

Pucciarelli shared what the experience had been like between the courses they were required to take. “I think they are awesome life lessons.”

“We have to go through Dave Ramsey’s classes and homebuilding courses on how to maintain your house. I think it’s awesome being a homeowner and getting that knowledge beforehand.” she said.

Pucciarelli sees it all as an answer to prayers. “After years of working on my credit score, I feel like all my hard work has paid off. Owning a home will help me feel secure, knowing that no one will be able to take it from me and my children will always have a place to call home.”

Additionally, Pucciarelli and Engram are both required to complete 200 “sweat equity,” hours. These hours are fulfilled by helping with the builds like the pair were doing Saturday at the construction site.

“It’s a lot to do. We are helping to build the neighbors’ house. It’s a lot to put your schedule together, but I hit my first nail this morning,” Engram said. “I’m very excited about this.”

Engram knew she would have a hard time buying in a highly competitive market like the one Lebanon is currently experiencing. In her future Habitat home, without the need to move every couple of years, she hopes her children will be able to concentrate on school and build friendships. She’s also looking forward to finally being able to “take care of herself.”

Engram and Pucciarelli already know their surrounding neighbors, too. They said they met them when they were helping to construct another Habitat home, part of the requirement for recipients.

Engram said that when she moved to the area from Michigan 11 years ago what struck her most profoundly was the kindness and thoughtfulness of the people in Middle Tennessee.

However, finding affordable housing had proven to be troublesome, so she and her two teenage children have been living with her parents in Lebanon.

Now that she is going to have her own place, Engram said that she is “overwhelmed and grateful,” to have been chosen as part of Habitat.

Anderson explained how the homeownership program works through Habitat. “They purchase a home at zero-% interest, just like you or I would, but through Habitat.”

The community relations manager said that the program is designed to prepare them for small things they might encounter like fixing dings in drywall or how to repair a toilet.

Anderson pointed to the budget classes and as being integral in setting the new homeowners up for long term success as well.

The 12-week course teaches fundamentals of saving money, but also assigns them a budget coach to help instruct them specifically.

We are working on the Dugan build. They sponsored both of our builds this fall.

In fact the new homeowners are here helping today.

One final class teaches them how to get along with neighbors, a critical component to owning a home as anyone who does will tell you.

Sponsors for this build included The Dugan Family Foundation, a Wilson County government grant, Famous Footwear, Enbridge and the Lebanon Breakfast Rotary Club.

“We are looking forward to all the volunteer groups coming out this fall. We have a great lineup of teams organized to build on these two beautiful townhomes. Our mission is to put God’s love into action to bring people together to build homes, community and hope,” said Anderson.

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