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Volunteers are getting 12 homes ready for owners.


AT 45, TYRONE Brown got what he had prayed for - a yellow shingle house with a small porch to share with his six-year-old daughter, Tyjah.

"Ain't but the two of us. We both touched the building and said a prayer," said Brown, who recalled aimless days of roaming Annapolis' historically black Clay Street neighborhood. The city garbage truck driver added, "Now it's our home and I'm at peace - this is mine."

The unfurnished dwelling at 80 Clay St., in Annapolis was built by volunteers working with Arundel Habitat for Humanity.

Brown's is one of 12 houses that Habitat volunteers have built or are constructing in the Clay Street community, which is nestled between the West Street corridor and College Creek.

This week, scores of Habitat for Humanity Maryland members gathered outside a nearby house for a more public milestone: to dedicate the 700th dwelling built or rehabilitated in the state by the international nonprofit.

That house is unfinished, with the original lumber exposed. But for the future owner, Terry Morgan, 46, the corner house on Clay Street equals a homecoming of sorts, to a place where her kin live all around.

"I was born and raised here in this neighborhood," she said after accepting a symbolic, key of ownership. "I think it's a charming big corner house and I'll enjoy the quietness. Now it's time."

Local Habitat officials said holding the 700th house celebration in the state capital was an effort to highlight the organization's goal to reach 1,000 newly built or rehabbed houses statewide by 2008. Maryland Habitat for Humanity opened in 1982.

Wednesday was a sweet day for many in the Clay Street neighborhood. The nonprofit concentrated the dozen homes close or next to each other in an effort to mend tears and gaps in the urban housing fabric.

The Rev. Louis Boston of the nearby First Baptist Church greeted Brown and Tyjah on the sidewalk on his way to give the blessing at the Habitat luncheon at the community's Stanton Center.

Worldwide, Habitat has assisted about 200,000 people who were living in substandard housing move into home ownership. First, the program allows those willing to work about 250 hours on improving or building a Habitat house to amass enough "sweat equity," or time credits, to qualify. Second, Habitat arranges zero-interest mortgages to keep the homes - often simple city rowhouses, with two bedrooms and one bathroom on two stories- affordable.

Melanie Smith, board president for the Arundel Habitat, said she and seven other staffers and volunteers were headed to Detroit this week to work with teams led by former President Jimmy Carter on a weeklong "blitz build," an annual work project that Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, undertake in different cities around the world. "In Detroit, we'll build a nexus of 35 houses in a week," Smith said.

Similar enthusiasm for hard work was displayed by Habitat volunteer workers from Severna Park-based Imagine Financial Services before Wednesday's dedication. Joseph Forman, who has worked in Baltimore and Philadelphia during his 10 years as a volunteer, said from a new house roof, "We closed the company for the day and we learn on the job. At the end of the day, you can see what you accomplished."

Across Clay Street on her 44th birthday, Mona Arlette Carter sat on her spacious front porch and watched their progress on a third house. "Nothing was there but that big tree," she said.

Carter said she had lived in the same house all her life - the house her father grew up in. Pointing to a large white shingle house at Clay and Bates streets, she recalled her family's doctor from the 1960s. "That was where Dr. Richardson had his practice," she said.

In the decades since, Clay Street has suffered its share of pains from urban renewal, poverty and crime.

But Tyrone Brown, the new homeowner who had prayed for a new home, said he and his daughter are hopeful after spending many nights sleeping on his sister's living room floor.

As she climbed the stairs of her new house, Tyjah said the best part of having her own room will be a bit of privacy.

"I'll take a nap and nobody will wake me up," she said.

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