On any given day, one might find Erin Hudson, executive director at Harbor Habitat for Humanity, counseling a future home owner, going over building plans for a new home, or at a job site checking on the progress of someone’s new home build.
What they won’t find Erin doing is giving anyone a “hand out.”
“We provide a ‘hand up,’ not a ‘hand out,’ to people,” Erin says. “I am working to empower people and give them the tools they need to be successful in this new venture of home ownership.”
Erin says she helps make dreams come true to people in her community, one home at a time.
Born and raised in Benton Harbor, Erin, like many, wandered far away from her hometown after college graduation, landing in Seattle to work for Microsoft.
Erin describes the moment she knew she had to come back to her roots as a bit of an epiphany.
“I was reading a business article and the global talent director for Whirlpool Corporation was talking about how difficult it is to bring top talent to Benton Harbor,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’m out here working for Microsoft, sitting on boards and active in this community. I’m doing all this stuff. Why am I not doing that in my hometown?”
Erin knew she had to try to get back home to Benton Harbor. She reached out to the talent director and after nearly a year was offered the position at Whirlpool that brought her full circle, and back to her roots.
She worked for Whirlpool until 2008, when because of the global reduction in force, her position was eliminated. Erin did not let this setback become her undoing. Instead she searched her soul and thought about what really brought her back to her community. She wanted to make a difference.
When the opportunity at Harbor Habitat for Humanity presented itself, Erin says she knew she had found her calling.
“This is home,” she says, choking back tears of joy. “It might sound really weird, but I felt like my footsteps up to that point they had been ordered to bring me to this position.”
Each time Erin would return home to Benton Harbor from Seattle, she says she would notice the condition of the neighborhood she grew up in, the path she used to take to school, the homes around the city sitting in disrepair.
Having no previous nonprofit experience, Erin had to connect the dots between her work in the corporate world and the needs of this nonprofit entity.
It is “feel good work,” she says. “Even the bad days, you know you are moving the needle. You are changing the trajectory of a family’s life. We are empowering them and giving them the tools they need to be successful in this new venture.”
Harbor Habitat for Humanity is a fair housing organization. Anyone can get a home — single, married, with children, or without — as long as they meet the following qualifications:
1. They have to have a need for housing.
2. Must earn between 30 to 80 percent of the area median income.
3. Must be willing to partner for 300 hours of sweat equity prior to closing on the home.
“I want people to know that these are hard-working families and individuals,” Erin says. “They are working sometimes two and three jobs to make ends meet. This program is not for the faint of heart. … It’s a lot of work. Imagine your life with your work schedule and your family, and now you have to find 300 extra hours,” she says.
Half of the 300 hours of sweat equity must to be spent in construction of their home, or other homes. The other 150 hours are spent in the community volunteering or in the classroom, where participants must complete Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.
Having taken this class herself, Erin can attest to the solid foundation it helps new home owners build. She describes it as a toolbox for financial literacy, for financial peace.
Mortgages vary – but Habitat tries to keep payments reasonable with mortgages ranging from 15 to 30 years. Homeowners pay between $500 and $1,000 down for their home, in addition to meeting the other criteria.
Currently, Harbor Habitat has 115 homes in the community, and the organization is working to build more.
“We were recently donated 2.7 acres by Benton Charter Township — and the new homes we are building there have two bathrooms and they have beautiful picture windows overlooking a ravine and we have a new gorgeous design,” Erin says. “They are so great we have people driving by that area and call us asking how they can get that home!”
Harbor Habitat currently has about eight families in one way or another working toward their goal of home ownership.
“We really need to wrap our arms around these individuals and families that are working super hard, and just need a hand up,” Erin says. “They are not looking for a hand out, but to realize a dream that many of these people never thought possible.”
In her spare time Erin is busy raising her teenage son, Charles, she is involved with her church and her sorority, and writes poetry and greeting cards to decompress.
While she never planned to work for a nonprofit, she says she feels blessed to be right where she is in her hometown of Benton Harbor, giving back to the community that gave her the foundation she needed to become who she is today.
Photos by Angie Marciniak