We’re going to use the word “key” a lot in this story.
For one, it’s the last name of our subject, Keturah Key, the new executive director of the Union-Anson County Habitat for Humanity.
Secondly, she likens the education she received at South Piedmont Community College to a key that unlocked her future.
And finally, since the day she graduated, her professional mission has been to put the keys to homeownership — literally — in deserving families’ hands.
“I drive by South Piedmont on my way to work, and every day, I have such a feeling of gratitude for where my education took me,” said Key, who started as executive director on May 1.
Originally from Brooklyn, Key relocated to Union County with her husband and son in 2008.
Up to that point, she had worked in retail to help support her family. But in a new place and amid the 2008 economic downturn, Key struggled to find work. In 2011, when her son was entering kindergarten, Key decided it was time to further her own education.
Seeking a career helping others, she enrolled in South Piedmont’s Associate in Applied Science in Human Services program. The degree prepares students for entry-level positions helping individuals and families improve their quality of life by accessing community services. After earning her associate degree, Key completed a Bachelor of Science in Human Services at East Tennessee State University.
During her second year at South Piedmont, Key began interning at Habitat for Humanity.
“From my first day as an intern, I had in the back of my mind something that Fedder Williams, the Human Services program lead, told us. She would say, ‘Be so good that they give you a job,’” Key said.
That’s exactly what Key did.
In the decade since she started with the Union-Anson County Habitat for Humanity, she’s worked in every aspect of the operation. She’s swung a hammer, started and managed the agency’s social media channels, counseled families on how to improve their credit in order to receive a home, and helped to increase awareness of the Habitat mission.
“It is an awesome mission. I love talking about it. We are the only Habitat for Humanity affiliate that services three counties in two states — Union and Anson in North Carolina and Chesterfield in South Carolina. We build eight to 10 homes per year and do about 40 repairs per year,” she said.
Individuals and families find their way to Union-Anson County Habitat for Humanity through a variety of ways. Some are referred by agencies such as the Department of Social Services or Monroe-Union County Community Development Corporation. Some come by way of word of mouth.
Regardless of how they come to the agency, future Habitat homeowners must meet certain income and credit requirements and put in “sweat equity” — helping to build others’ homes — before they receive their own keys.
“We serve people who would otherwise be denied a loan,” Key said. “Our homeowners still take out a mortgage, so they have to show they’re going to be able to maintain the house and make the payments.”
When the moment comes to finally hand over the keys to a new homeowner, Key is reminded all over again why she chose her career.
“There’s no way to describe that feeling when a family is finally able to move into their new home. It changes everything for them,” Key said.
“We have families who are still living in their homes years later. We have families who have sold their homes and moved into something bigger. All their lives, they’ve been told they aren’t good enough, or that they’ll never be able to afford a house. When they receive those keys, that’s the start of a life change for them.”
As executive director, Key will continue Habitat’s life-changing work while steadily increasing awareness and the number of families it serves.
“I want to keep building on the foundation we have in our communities. I would love to see us have greater visibility, start an online store, and help more families in our area,” she said.
As she begins this new phase of her career with Habitat for Humanity, as she has since her first day as an intern, Key is quick to thank South Piedmont for its role in her success.
“Everything started to fall into place for me when I chose South Piedmont.”
Learn more about South Piedmont’s Human Services program at spcc.edu/human-services.