The Publicist

There's always a home for good comms at Habitat for Humanity

There's always a home for good comms at Habitat for Humanity

Riding shotgun through the pitch-dark Transylvania countryside around midnight a week before Halloween, I don't know which is scarier: the dense fog and imaginary figures alongside the road, or the very real and possessed man behind the wheel, intent on defying the laws of physics while rounding each impossibly tight corner. I'm headed to a remote Romanian village for a ceremony the next day honoring an extraordinary woman and a heart-warming community relations campaign by Habitat for Humanity.

Think your job is hard? Try this: Geta Heredea, middle-aged mother of three, lived with her family, including a husband who worked full-time, in a tiny one- room home with no running water. She walked two miles each way to a standing factory job, often through freezing cold. With a bad leg. Returning home, she did the wash by hand outside in a basin, regardless of weather. When pregnancy prevented her from continuing the long treks to work, she did odd jobs in the neighborhood until one day she decided to spit her tough circumstances in the eye and seek aid from Habitat for Humanity, the home-building nonprofit helping the working poor.

Habitat's 'sweat equity' clause requires homeowners to not only pay mortgages - which are nonprofit to Habitat - but to help build their own homes. So Geta, her husband, and other family and friends grabbed some hammers and began building. Not only that, she donated her remaining small parcel of land to two other families to build on, and availed her new washer, donated by Whirlpool, to neighbors.

All of Habitat's success stories are noteworthy, but this one was truly inspiring. In fact, Habitat's Budapest communications office submitted the story to the Swiss-based Women's World Summit Foundation - which bestowed upon Geta one of its annual prizes for women who improve their rural communities.

Geta arrives on awards day totally unaware of events, expecting only to help out a neighbor (whose own Habitat home she helped facilitate). But before work starts, Habitat PR reps surprise her with the Foundation's award and a $500 check - equal to five months of her husband's salary. Grateful and overwhelmed by the honor and the media turnout, the shy Geta dispenses hugs and smiles all around, then bashfully distracts attention from herself by doing what she came to do - start building a home for someone else.

Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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