COVINGTON - The Rev. Billy Wade has been helping build homes and families' futures for more than 20 years.
On Tuesday, the co-founder and long-time president of Newton County Habitat for Humanity was recognized by his fellow volunteers and local officials for his hard work and dedication.
About a dozen well-wishers gathered in the Newton County Historic Courthouse to thank a surprised Wade for his service. After 22 years of immersing himself in a variety of roles for the charity organization, which builds homes for needy families, Wade is stepping down as president, though he says he'll still be an advisor to Habitat's board and help with home builds.
New Habitat President Jeremy Shearer presented Wade with a plaque of recognition on behalf of the organization's board of directors.
"Billy is a great man. He participates in a lot of different faith-based volunteer organizations ... It's been nice having him around to learn from. He's definitely going to be missed," Shearer said.
Covington Mayor Kim Carter and Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan signed a proclamation in Wade's honor, declaring him "the moving force behind Habitat for Humanity for the past two decades."
"Sometimes it takes that quiet person in the background to keep the community going," Morgan said.
When Wade moved to Newton County to pastor First Presbyterian Church of Covington, some members of his new congregation asked him point blank what he was going to do to keep the church involved in the community.
At that time, one in 10 local houses didn't have indoor plumbing. Wade and a small group of other concerned citizens wanted to help.
"It felt easier to plug into an organization that was already successful, so we formed a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity," Wade said.
After doing a joint project with the Morgan County chapter, the two organizations merged, but, "We then realized that people wanted to give money to their (own) community," Wade said, so the chapters split after about 10 years.
Newton County Habitat has built more than 20 houses in Newton and Morgan counties, plus worked on additional projects, such as rebuilding a home that was flooded in Americus. In addition, local members have tithed to help fund builds in Mexico.
The best part for Wade has been witnessing the reactions of the people getting a new home.
"To hear their excitement, and watch them when they move in, that's been the great thing for me," he said.
That, and bringing together people from all different walks of life, have been his greatest joys.
"We have at times been able not only to build houses, but build a community. People that didn't know each other get to know each other a little bit. That's been a goal," he said.
"Many times I've thought how special this community is because people are many times working together and respecting each other, not only across a difference of backgrounds and cultures, but across a difference of ideologies and faiths," he added.
Wade said he's grateful there seems to be a new surge of volunteers ready to help with Habitat, noting that it's been hard to raise enough funds in the last several years.
"We need new life. I think there's a really good opportunity here for us with some of the programs the county is going to be doing, and the city," he said, referring to the rehabilitation of existing homes through federal stimulus money.
Wade has called Newton County home since moving here 23 years ago from Charleston, S.C. He and wife Theodosia have three sons, Graham, Cam and Grady; and one grandson, Bryson.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: How to help
Anyone interested in volunteering or donating to Newton County Habitat for Humanity should call 770-784-9665.
Habitat will be selling refreshments and taking donations at the upcoming 2nd Friday Night Summer Concert Series. The free concerts will take place at 7 p.m. on the second Friday night of each month from June through September.