BY LISA WARREN
The inspirational story of one little boy has helped to launch a new program aimed at reaching out to individuals and families who have home accessibility and other minor home repair needs.
Called "Habitat Hearts," the program is being launched by Greene County Habitat for Humanity in honor of three-year-old Malachi Taylor and his family.
Born with a rare condition called arthrogyposis, Malachi suffers with severe limb deformity and dysfunction.
Since September, he has undergone two orthopedic surgeries at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Lexington, Ky., where doctors are working to better align his feet and lower legs.
Thanks to these surgeries, his mother, Danielle, said she plans to give her son his first pair of shoes this Christmas.
These recent surgeries are just two in a series of future operations all designed to improve Malachi's physical function.
It is the hope of Greene County Habitat for Humanity to also make Malachi's home more functional for him.
Ground is expected to be broken soon on an addition to the Taylor home, which will provide Malachi with a handicapped-accessible bedroom and bathroom.
Estimated cost for the project is $25,000, Culbertson said.
"We will be looking hard at ways to secure volunteer manpower, gifts in kind and other types of donations to fund this project," she said.
The project is expected to be completed in May 2013.
Malachi, along with his parents, Jason and Danielle Taylor, and his six siblings, lives in a Habitat for Humanity-built home, which was completed about two years ago.
It was the Taylor family's special dedication to Habitat for Humanity that prompted local officials to design the new Habitat Hearts program around them, said Executive Director Vicki Culbertson.
"They are such a wonderful family," Culbertson said. "They are so full of hope and love."
"I met the Taylors and their children in 2010 when they came into the Habitat office to inquire about our homeownership program," Culbertson said.
"Once we completed the application process and told them they were qualified, Danielle and Jason were immediately ready to start on their 'sweat equity.' They were very hard workers, and it was a pleasure to see them become Habitat partners and see their house come together," Culbertson continued.
The Taylors worked so hard that they had earned extra "sweat equity" hours by the time their home was complete.
"I was so proud of them when they requested that the hours go toward helping another family trying to earn their hours to become homeowners," Culbertson said.
As the Taylors were working toward ownership of their own home, Culbertson said she got to know the children in their blended family.
"I remember meeting Malachi, and Danielle telling me about the uncertainty of his future," Culbertson said.
"Before moving into their house, she told me many times Malachi was such a wonderful blessing and she was making sure to enjoy every second she had with him, not knowing what the future held."
Today, however, thanks to Shriners Hospital and many others who have touched his life, Malachi is thriving.
"His doctors are absolutely amazed at his progress," his mother said.
She extended hope to other parents like herself who may also be caring for a child with special needs.
"Don't feel sad and taken over by fear; feel empowered to help your child," Taylor said.
"We have lots of children that need family support and resources that can help us become better parents for our children. You never know what hand life is going to throw you, but, with faith and help it all makes you stronger and makes you a better person," she added.
The name "Malachi" in Hebrew means messenger of God, "my messenger" or "my angel," Culbertson said.
"How fitting a name for a little guy that has been given the ability to touch lives leaving a positive impact on humanity while facing great challenges in his own life," she said.
Culbertson said that the Habitat for Humanity office frequently receives inquiries from families - like the Taylors - who are needing help with handicap accessibility.
"Most people know we have a housing program providing decent affordable houses with a 0% interest mortgage, but more importantly, we are a Christian housing ministry that was created to help families in need," Culbertson said.
The new Habitat Hearts program, she said, will help as many families as possible with special needs, such as ramps, railing, and retro fitting for accessibility as funds are available.
EDITOR'S NOTE: To inquire about "Project Malachi" or other potential Habitat Heart opportunities, call 638-1338 or 972-3921.
Gifts in kind and/ or monetary donations may be sent to:
Greene County Habitat for Humanity
Project Malachi - Habitat Hearts Program
P.O. Box 1824
Greeneville, TN 37744