The American Dream, Hard Work And Habitat

Stephanie Smith

BY MUFFET ROBINSON, Habitat for Humanity Seminole-Apopka, GUEST WRITER TO THE TIMES

SANFORD – You have probably heard of Habitat for Humanity. You may know they do good work and build houses but might wonder how neighbors “get” a house. Are they just lucky? Longtime Habitat Seminole-Apopka homeowner Stephanie Smith will tell you that individuals and families work extremely hard to buy their new homes. As did Stephanie, Future Homebuyers partner with this full-service home buying program that begins with education. The partnership requires classes in financial literacy, home maintenance, civic engagement, and other topics that help homeowners succeed in the long-term.

Stephanie first came to Habitat Seminole-Apopka in 2008. As there was no funding available at the time, she applied in late 2009, with a personal plan to get out of Section 8 housing and buy her own home. Before she could be accepted into the Homebuyers Program, however, she was required to meet the financial obligations by reducing her debt and improving her credit score. Once she did so, she reapplied and was accepted.

While on her Future Homebuyer journey, Stephanie continued to work on managing her money prudently and raising her credit score even further, with the guidance of Habitat staff. She’s thrilled that additional classes are now available, not only the new mandatory education sessions for those purchasing Habitat homes, but the Financial Academy for the entire community to improve their financial know-how.

Stephanie completed her 200 sweat equity hours quickly (as a single head of household) with the help of her daughter and friends, by building her home and others and going to the mandatory home maintenance and financial literacy classes. Once she moved into her affordable home, Stephanie made use of the maintenance skills she learned, saving her both time and money over the years. She also took to heart the teachings about budgeting and saving money, enabling her to provide “extras” while raising her daughter as a single mother and to further her daughter’s education.

Following the recommendations about financially protecting herself and her daughter with short- and long-term disability insurance and a legal will have proven crucial to her, in light of her subsequent medical issues. She has made sure this investment will become her legacy to her daughter.

Stephanie moved into her Goldsboro home in June 2010, excited to be a homeowner. She began volunteering with Habitat a year later and has not stopped giving of herself in the 13 years since. As part of the Habitat “family,” she serves on the Homebuyer Selection Committee, volunteers to assist at meetings and events such as the recent Homeowners Family Reunion, comes to celebrate with new owners at Home Dedications, and continues to inform the community about Habitat. She is definitely a caring Ambassador!

With her pulse on the happenings in Sanford, Stephanie tells the doubters, “They’re for real.” She knows personally about the obligations involved in partnering with Habitat, the online application and sweat equity hours, improving one’s credit score, and closing on an affordable mortgage. “What I like is that I’m a product of Habitat. I went through the program, so I can tell people what I went through. I break it down to them. Since I came in, everything has gotten better, like the floor plans and the classes. There are a lot of education classes…and you can take the online, six-week Financial Academy before you even get into the program, or even if you just want the financial education and don’t want to be a homeowner!”

Life sometimes deals an unexpected blow to even the best of us. In 2020, Stephanie was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast cancer and a tumor wrapped around her spinal cord, necessitating emergency spinal surgery. Unfortunately, she had to stop working as a nurse. Thanks to the stability of her affordable mortgage and the financial protections she put in place, Stephanie has not missed a mortgage payment since, even though she is still fighting cancer.

With the lack of affordable housing for first-time homebuyers in Central Florida, not to mention rents going through the roof, the dream of owning seems more out of reach for the workforce than ever. Habitat Seminole-Apopka is working to provide the opportunity for that to come true, as it did with Stephanie. Coordinating financial assistance keeps the homes affordable; and partnering with the business community, faith groups, government officials, and individuals helps fund home construction and homebuyer classes. Volunteer labor helps with construction costs. The labor and learning involved in “sweat equity” not only becomes the buyer’s down payment, but the knowledge gained helps improve the entire community.

Those interested in the American dream of purchasing a home in Seminole County or the Greater Apopka area of Orange County can do so by partnering with Habitat Seminole-Apopka. You also must have a verifiable housing need, be able to pay an affordable mortgage, and have a credit score of at least 620. “The process is not easy,” says Stephanie, “But it’s totally worth it!”

For more information and to register for the free, six-week, online Financial Academy, please visit