When Tahlequah Area Habitat For Humanity raised the first walls of its latest house on March 7th, executive director Linda Cheatham expected it to be finished by May.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit.
"We had to stop building in the middle," Cheatham said, adding that when they shut down work, the house had four walls and a roof, but no doors, windows, or siding. The house, she said, had been intended for a Cherokee Nation citizen who is unable to work due to a disability and is considered "very low income."
Meanwhile, at the organization's two ReStores — second-hand retail shops that support Habitat for Humanity affiliates' bottom lines — social distancing and restrictions on businesses left Cheatham with no choice but to let staff go.
"We did not have customers coming in to shop, Cheatham said. "We quickly lost the ability to stay open and pay our employees. We had no income. I had to lay off 11 employees."
Cheatham said she filed paperwork to apply for funding from the $2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, which included funding for nonprofit organizations. She said she had help navigating the application process from the staff of the Cherokee Nation's Small Business Assistance Center.
"I applied on a Saturday," Cheatham said. "By the next Thursday, I had the money" — $44,000 — "deposited into an account."
"When the money came through, I was able to pay our construction supervisor to finish the house for this lady," Cheatham said. She also said volunteers had been scheduled to come back to the work site.
Cheatham said the house was originally slated to be finished by the end of May, with the homeowner moving in by early June. Following the resumption of work, she now expects it to be finished by the end of July and ready for an early August move-in.