RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The mission is simple, yet so powerful: provide affordable housing for people in need.
Six years ago, a local couple started a non profit that turns blighted Richmond buildings into places struggling families proudly call home.
Loretta Wallace and her family have been in their Fourth Ave. home for about a year.
"We love it, we love this house," Wallace says. "We love this neighborhood."
The disabled army veteran struggled for nearly two decades to realize her dream of owning a home. "I've been trying to buy a house in Richmond for 18 years."
Loretta's luck changed while doing volunteer work in the community, and she met the founders of Hands Up Ministry, Cassie and John Matthews.
The couple invested in their own funds to put families into homes.
"We just talked about it," Cassie says. "We thought we could liquidate our IRAs and do something. [We] weren't making any money anyway."
They purchased blighted properties in Richmond's Highland Park community. A team of mostly volunteers, including potential homeowners, did top to bottom cleanup and repairs inside and out. They're sold at the price the couple bought it, so there's no profit.
"Rent to own," Cassie says says. "That's what we're trying to do, is rent to own people who don't have the opportunity, have bad credit, or felony or whatever."
The couple is also trying to rent to people on fixed incomes, like Loretta.
"She said, 'You guys want my house down the street? I'll sell it to you,'" Loretta says. "I did't just get a house. She sold houses to three other people. One was a veteran that was disabled." The couple also sold a house to a retired teacher up the street.
"Now we see the whole neighborhood changing," Loretta says. "It used to be people were getting killed at the bus stop. A couple of years ago, you couldn't really walk down the street."
Now you can see little libraries on many streets throughout the neighborhood and others. Cassie's putting them in barbershops and laundromats.
"I feel like the key out of poverty is literacy," Cassie says.
There is also a Hands Up Ministries community garden.
"I say this about Cassie and John," Loretta says. "They're the most giving and loving people I have met in a long time."
Now NBC12 is helping Loretta give back by giving her $300. She decided to give the $300 to Cassie and John to say thank you.
"Hands Up Ministries is so great in our neighborhood," Loretta says. "We want to say thank you. Thank you for putting yourselves on the line with us, and this is just a donation to the organization."
The three of them are already looking ahead to their next neighborhood project. After Loretta and Lena hosted a successful summer program for kids, Hands Up Ministries is focused on fundraising for a community center.
"People can come in and teach, tutor and help us with computers," Cassie says.
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