Planting roots

Construction hasn’t even started at the grassy log in the center of a Trafalgar neighborhood.

But in Karen Mangum’s mind, her dream house is coming together. She can see the flowers and landscaping along the brick walls. The backyard will provide her 12-year-old daughter, Stephanie, a place to set up a trampoline and play. Someday, she would like to fence in the yard, so Stephanie’s dog can run.

Stephanie has even picked out an empty space inside the planned building site, where her own room will finally be.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Stephanie said.

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The Mangums will be the most recent recipients of a house built by Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County. Transitioning from the cramped quarters of their two-bedroom apartment in Greenwood, the family considers themselves lucky to have realize their dream without going into tremendous debt.

Sometimes, it still seems too abstract to be real, Karen Mangum said.

“I’m still trying to believe that it’s actually going to happen,” she said. “We’ve thought about it, but it’s hard to picture before there’s a house. We’ll have our own home, that we can make our own. We can plant flowers and trees. We’re looking forward to that.”

Karen Mangum, a housekeeper at Greenwood Village South, didn’t think that she could ever afford a house for her and her daughter. A mortgage payment on top of her existing bills for utilities, insurance and other costs was too much.

But at the same time, living in an apartment was expensive, too.

“You’re paying in money to it each month, but not getting anything out of it,” she said.

Karen Mangum found out about the Habitat for Humanity program in 2012, after reading a newspaper article about Habitat for Humanity and its mission. She felt that she met the requirements as an ideal partner family.

Habitat for Humanity partners with area families to provide them with an affordable home. The organization spends about two months building a low-cost house, then sells it to the partner families at no profit.

The new owners receive a 20-year, interest-free mortgage for the house and are responsible for monthly mortgage payments of about $350.

New owners also are asked to put down $700 on the house to help cover closing costs. Families take financial classes and pay “sweat equity” — 300 hours of volunteer labor on their home and other Habitat and community projects.

The Mangums were an ideal family to partner with because of their enthusiasm to meet requirements as quickly as possible, said Lee Ann Wilbur, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Johnson County. She has been diligent about keeping her finances from becoming too debt-heavy.

“She has worked so hard. She has been a perfect partner family. Any time we’ve asked her to do anything or help with anything, be at an event, she’s been there,” Wilbur said. “She’s very humble and gracious and happy to be here.”

Karen Mangum did her volunteer hours with Servants at Work, a central Indiana nonprofit group that builds wheelchair accessible ramps for the handicapped.

She also took part in three other Habitat for Humanity builds in Johnson County and will finish up her volunteer hours on her own home.

“Doing those other projects gave me some experience and really made me excited to get started,” she said.

Speaking from her own experience, Karen Mangum knows how impossible owning a house can seem. She didn’t think it would ever happen for her and Stephanie.

But it can, if you know where to look, she said. For many families, that starting point can be Habitat for Humanity.

“Don’t be afraid to apply, if you think it’s something you might need,” she said.

I didn’t know that I’d be accepted,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing that they do, it’s amazing and it can change your life. “

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.