WILMINGTON — Not long after dawn on Saturday, Jan. 14, volunteers from the Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity started congregating on the 600 block of Harnett St. in the downtown area.
Workers and volunteers gathered for the wall-raising ceremony of Samantha Aryeetey and her two daughters, although the event was more construction site than ceremony. Work was set to begin at 8:30 a.m and continue throughout the afternoon.
Aryeetey completed her application for the Habitat for Humanity homeowners’ program in March 2016. The program is not free – Aryeetey will pay a mortgage on the house, as well as paying the closing costs on the property. She was also required to complete 250 hours of “sweat equity,” working on construction sites for other Habitat projects, according to Lynne Wooten, director of development for Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity.
Thanking the crowd of volunteers, many of whom she had spent many hours working alongside, Aryeetey said, “You know I can’t do it, can’t put it in words. But thank you.”
The City of Wilmington donated the parcel of land at 606 Harnett St. Coldwell Banker provided funding for the house and a professional construction team.
Grayson Powell, president of Coldwell Banker Commercial SunCoast, gave a brief and emotional speech, telling Aryeetey, “Thank you for letting us be part of this for you. I hope this house means everything to you that you hope it will.”
Steve Spain, executive director of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity, praised the city’s commitment to urban development.
“This is a neighborhood you’ve probably heard about, the ‘North Fourth’ neighborhood,” Spain said. “It’s an area that’s coming up, and when that happens, you see new buildings and fancy restaurants, and that’s great, that’s fine. But sometimes when neighborhoods come up, people get left behind. So we want to praise the vision of the city, for investing in people, in families.”
Mayor Bill Saffo, waved off applause, saying only, “I didn’t come here to talk, I came here to work.”
As the walls went up, Aryeetey filmed it on her phone to show her daughters.
“They’d live out of our car behind the Family Dollar, no complaints, as long as they got to be with their mama,” she said. “But I know they deserve a house.”
Appearing slightly overwhelmed, Aryeetey said things had moved very quickly.
“I applied back in March, but I was working and my schedule meant I couldn’t get a lot of hours,” she said.
When another employee had a change of schedule, Saturdays opened for Aryeetey.
“I know that was my chance,” she said. “Before I knew it, it was December, and we were breaking ground.”
Aryeetey put in 202 hours in nine months, putting in nearly twice the sweat equity in half the usual time. But, while Aryeetey praised the support of her friends, her neighbors and her Deaconess, Marietta Hammond of the Union Missionary Baptist Church, she refused to take any credit for the hard work.
“You have to understand, that wasn’t me. Working multiple jobs, moving around, being sick, dealing with illness. It wasn’t me,” she said. “That was God.”
Grabbing a hammer from Mayor Saffo, Aryeetey said:
“How do I feel? Oh my god, I’m so excited. This is more exciting than a groundbreaking. That was just, you know, land. I like to say it had potential. But it really was just a hole in the ground. Now there’s concrete, and you can start to see it come together. When the walls went up, I could see it. Rooms for my girls. A house. Our house.”
Below: Video of the wall raising; Samantha Aryeetey talks to Port City Daily.