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From client to realtor to philanthropist: Athena’s MHO Journey

Feb 24, 2023 | News

In early 2009, Athena was working to make ends meet as a teacher’s assistant. Athena, then a single mom of three, strived to provide her family with a stable and comfortable home. Their motto, Athena shared, was “We just make things happen. We find a way.” While assembling a list of community resources for students and their families, Athena discovered MHO’s Self-Help Homeownership program listed among options for affordable housing. Inspired by the possibility of owning a home, Athena applied for the program and secured the last spot available for a group of homes planned in Black Mountain, NC. Athena found her way. 

By the time she started her homebuilding journey in late 2009, her family had expanded. Athena and her new husband began to build a home for their now blended family of eight, working side-by-side with fellow program participants to construct six new affordable homes together. They moved into their house in August 2010. Rather than paying someone else’s mortgage, I’m paying my own mortgage,” said Athena. “It’s broken the chain of poverty within my family.” 

MHO’s Self-Help Homeownership program helps people achieve homeownership through a blend of hard work and financial tools that serve income-limited, first-time homebuyers. Homes are financed with low-interest USDA mortgages paired with “sweat equity” construction hours put in by the homeowners, reducing the overall purchase cost. Construction takes an average of nine months to one year. The program is labor intensive but immensely rewarding, producing six to twelve new affordable homes annually. “MHO’s Self-Help Homeownership program brings small cohorts of qualified homebuyers together to work cooperatively to build homes under the guidance of an MHO construction supervisor,” said Scott Dedman, MHO’s President and Executive Director. “Neighbors work alongside one another to build a community from the ground up. No one moves in until all of the homes in their group are completed.”  

The experience of building her own home through the Self-Help Homeownership program had a profound impact on Athena. Inspired to help others achieve their dream of homeownership, Athena decided to pursue her real estate license and officially became a realtor in 2017. She knew she wanted to give back. “My number one business goal when I got my real estate license was to try and help MHO in any way, shape, or form,” she shared. “Mountain Housing Opportunities has made an immeasurable difference in my life.” 

In her work as a realtor, Athena saw a property in Swannanoa that she thought would be a good fit for more affordable housing. She notified Dedman and within two days, MHO had the site under contract. MHO recently completed construction of twelve new townhomes on the site, which is located in the family-friendly neighborhood of Cherry Blossom Cove. “It was a great full circle moment for me knowing that the people who would move into these affordable homes probably had the same feelings that I did about not being able to make ends meet or never being able to own a home in this area,” said Athena.  

Owning her own home provides Athena’s family with financial stability and equity she hopes to pass down to her children. “I absolutely owe every bit of success I’ve had in life to having this house,” Athena added. “It has been the foundation of all of the positive things I’ve done since becoming a homeowner.” Athena recently won the Good Neighbor Award from Land of the Sky Association of Realtors. The award honors a realtor who demonstrates professional excellence and service to the local community. It also comes with a $1,000 donation to a charity of choice. Athena chose Mountain Housing Opportunities.  

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