May 01, 2023
Art birdhouses will star at Space Coast Habitat event in Melbourne
It's been almost nine years since my mother died. The ache of missing her,
It's been almost nine years since my mother died.
The ache of missing her, especially during our shared birth month, has dulled, but it never goes away. It's soothed by all the reminders, big and small, that cross my path daily.
Caterpillars on a milkweed plant, camellias in bloom, birds swarming my feeder, a favorite hymn, Habitat for Humanity.
I was a college student home for the summer when I learned about my mother's obsession with Habitat. For almost 30 years, she volunteered with Pensacola Habitat for Humanity, serving on the board of directors, planning events, cooking meals and teaching homeowner classes. In 2011, a Pensacola street with about 40 Habitat homes on it was named Mary Fleming Drive in her honor.
"Through your volunteer service you have changed the lives of more than 800 families in need," reads the plaque she was given to mark the occasion.
I still can't talk about her love for Habitat without tearing up. When the opportunity to join the board for Space Coast Habitat for Humanity arose six years ago, it felt like she had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "Continue my legacy."
I've always loved the mission of Habitat. It's the epitome of a hand up rather than a hand out. Habitat homeowners aren't given anything but an opportunity. They pay mortgages, put in volunteer hours and attend classes to learn the financial side of homeownership.
In the past couple of years, though, that mission has felt more vital as I've watched friends and co-workers struggle to find safe, affordable places to live.
According to stats provided by Realtor and fellow Habitat board member Stacy-Anne Zeller, the median home price in Brevard County jumped from $238,875 in 2019 to $360,000 in 2022. That's a 50.7% increase.
That means even if a family can afford $72,000 for a 20% down payment, the mortgage, plus taxes and insurance, on an average house in our county would be around $2,000. Considering our median household income in 2021 was $63,632, according to the U.S. Census, that pretty much prices teachers, police officers and newspaper reporters out of the housing market. (As of July, the base starting salary for Brevard Public School teachers was $48,725.)
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OK, I've thrown a bunch of numbers at you, and it's making my head hurt. To put it simply, hardworking people in our community need the security of a decent place to live, and Space Coast Habitat is charged with making homeownership a reality for them.
Habitat isn't an instant gratification kind of organization, and I have trouble with that sometimes. I want to see Habitat neighborhoods spring up across the Space Coast as quickly as subdivisions have sprouted west of I-95. But the reality is, it takes time to find land and build houses. It also takes money.
Which brings me to another thing that reminds me of my mother. Birdhouses.
She helped plan an annual Birdhouse Show & Sale in Pensacola to raise money for Habitat. A framed poster from the 1994 event hangs next to my desk, and decorative birdhouses bought through the years occupy a shelf in my living room.
Since joining the Space Coast Habitat board, I've wanted to honor my mother with a birdhouse event. It's finally going to happen March 5 at Hell 'n Blazes Brewing Co. in downtown Melbourne. Whiskey & Wood will feature bluegrass music by Penny Creek; Hell 'n Blazes beer, food and signature whiskey cocktails; and artist-designed birdhouses.
We gave simple wooden birdhouses to 33 local artists, who transformed them into one-of-a-kind masterpieces that will be auctioned off at the event. I'm blown away by the time and talent they gave to help raise money for Habitat. I'm also hoping I'll take home at least one of these unique works of art to add to my collection.
Working on an event of this scale has tested every bit of my organizational and time-management skills, and a good bit of my patience. It's also taught me to appreciate the teamwork it takes to make something difficult seem effortless.
In the end, it's worth it to see the look on a homeowner's face when she's handed the keys to her beautiful new house.
Now that planning is almost complete, I can't wait to enjoy the day and show off those amazing birdhouses.
I hope my mama would be proud.
When: 4-7 p.m. Sunday, March 5
Where: Hell 'n Blazes Brewing Co., 1002 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne
Tickets: Start at $125, available at spacecoasthabitat.org
Participating artists: Eileen Brock, Vicki Busby, Jamie Cain, Mary Compton, Darwin Craul, Renee Decator, Beth-Anne Fairchild, Therese Ferguson, Jen Gallo, Derek Gores, Janine Heimberger, Kyle Heinly, Elizabeth Hunter, Lori Pitten Jenkins, Eric Lamarr, Suze Lavender, Sheila Lougheed, Jamie Meagher, Barbara Milford, Joanna M. Nouragas, Theresa Riley, Sandra Dee Russell, Donna Schaefer, Carolyn Seiler, Phyliss Shipley, Anna Terry, Vashti Verschoor, Ed "Ed's Heads" Volonnino, Tara Weigner, Stacey Williams, Bobbie Whitmore, Olivia Womack and Linda Z.
Whiskey & Wood Planning committee: Chris Myers, Darcia Jones Francey, Don DiFrisco, Tracy Stoller, Audrey Wanich, Stacy-Ann Zeller, Kim Belardinelli, Stacy McGinty, Rachel Cahill, Joanna M. Nourgas, Anna Terry, Kate Dilulio, Brittany Condon, Christina Volonnino and Suzy Leonard
Suzy Fleming Leonard is a features journalist with more than three decades of experience. Reach her at [email protected]. Find her on Facebook: @SuzyFlemingLeonard or on Instagram: @SuzyLeonard.More by Suzy: When: Where: Tickets: Participating artists: Whiskey & Wood Planning committee: