By Curt Yeomans
Katinka Matthews came a step closer to having a new place to call home Sunday, with the help of a group of 30 volunteers that included country music superstars Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks.
Matthews is the recipient of this year's Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity women's build house. The organization conducts the women's build every year to coincide with Mother's Day.
Matthews, the mother of four children, received the key to her new, still unfinished house in Habitat for Humanity's Avery neighborhood in Jonesboro Sunday as her Mother's Day present from Habitat, Lowe's, Yearwood and Brooks.
"We [Brooks and Yearwood] were lucky to be raised by parents who said 'You have a responsibility to give back,'" Yearwood said. "That's not just because we're celebrities. It's everybody's responsibility ... For me, I love the physical act of doing something. I really love things that let me get in the middle and do something physical, and you really don't get more physical than building a house."
Yearwood and Brooks, who are among the Recording Industry Association of America's all-time top-selling artists, and were married in 2005, spent last week helping Habitat for Humanity celebrate National Women Build Week by helping build homes in their home states.
National Women Build Week is designed to honor mothers, and to help single mothers get their first home, said Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity spokesperson Cara Welch. The primary volunteers for women's build projects are, as the name suggests, women who range from grandmothers, to aunts, to daughters, Welch added.
Even the nametag on Brooks' chest identified him as "Mr. Yearwood" rather than by his own name. "She told me since I swing a hammer like a girl, I can come along too," Brooks joked.
Yearwood said the idea of a women's build, though, in her opinion, is "not to discourage men, but to encourage women."
Early in the week, the husband-and-wife team helped build a home in Brooks' hometown of Tulsa, Okla., Welch said. Yearwood is a native of Monticello. Brooks said the thing that attracted himself and his wife to the projects was the fact that homeowners have to help build their house, and other houses for Habitat for Humanity.
"What I love about this is seeing the homeowners on her hands and knees and pounding nails into the wall," Brooks said. "The thing that I [also] love is that it's hers." Brooks said he and Yearwood, along with his "Teammates for Kids" charity will partner with Habitat for Humanity again to help build homes and orphanages in Thailand for victims of the 2004 tsunami.
Matthews, 35, is raising three sons and a daughter. Her oldest child, a son, is 17, and her youngest child, a daughter, is 13.
She said she moved her family from Maryland to Georgia five and a half years ago because she felt there would be better programs available to her second-oldest son, Terrance, 15, who has epilepsy, cerebral palsy, cannot walk or talk and has to be fed through a feeding tube. "When I came down here, I wanted to be able to get more help for him," Matthews said.
At first, Matthews and her children stayed in hotel rooms, but as money began to run out, she said, they began staying in shelters while she began attending school at Advanced Career Training Institute in Morrow to learn how to be a medical assistant. In time, Matthews said she was able to get a job in her chosen field, and she moved her family into an apartment in Jonesboro.
She said the home being built for her in Jonesboro will be the first home she has ever owned. Matthews is still in the process of finalizing details like what color the walls are, or what carpet or tiles will be put in the house, but she said she wants those things to reflect warmth and the work that volunteers put into building the house.
"When I move in, the first thing I'm probably going to do is shout 'Praise the Lord! It's mine!' " Matthews said. "When you work for something, you appreciate it more. It's a sense of pride and commitment. You can save up your money and buy a house that you like, but it doesn't mean the same ... I want it to be something that I can pass down to my children some day."
Matthews also said she never thought music superstars like Yearwood and Brooks would be involved in helping her obtain her first home.
"I was just going about my life, and I never thought, first and foremost, that somebody who knew somebody, who knew somebody, would want to help me out," Matthews said. "For her and her family to come out and help me build my house - I'm very humbled by that. Out of all the people she could have helped, she decided to help me. I'm blown away."
In addition to bringing her husband to work on Matthews' home, Yearwood also brought her mother, sister and niece to help put up siding, paint walls and install doors on Friday and Sunday.
"There are so many things about it that makes it a special Mother's Day," Yearwood said. "I get to see a mother move into a home with her children after the mom has worked really hard to get here. It's amazing, and to share that with my mother, I feel really lucky."