Macon Chick-fil-A’s ‘Light More Homes’ leads to cook’s American dream

lfabian@macon.comNovember 15, 2012 

Since moving into her brand new house last fall, Tina B. Jolly has been even jollier than usual.

Her face lights up any time she thinks about the sunny yellow home she and her Chick-fil-A colleagues helped build in Lynmore Estates. The paint was chosen to fit her exuberant personality.

“This is my first home, that’s why I’m so happy,” Jolly said. “I’m a first-time homeowner.”

For the past 12 years, the 56-year-old has been rising before the sun to get breakfast ready at the Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard restaurant.

Five years ago, the eatery’s drive-through lit up for the first time in a winter wonderland of lights and music to benefit Habitat for Humanity.

Jolly thought the display was nice, but she could not predict how it would change her life.

When Chuck Hammock first approached Chick-fil-A owner and operator David Clark about putting up the light show in 2008, Clark wanted the holiday display to mean something more than beautiful decorations and synchronized music.

As a Habitat board member, Hammock suggested they collect donations for the nonprofit organization dedicated to building affordable housing. The “Light More Homes Christmas Celebration” campaign began.

“I never thought one of my own team members would get a house. Wow!” Clark said.

Two years ago, the restaurant added a 5K run to coincide with the first official lighting of the season.

Saturday, runners will begin the third annual race at 4 p.m. and more than 50,000 lights will be turned on at dusk sometime after the last pair of feet cross the finish line.

About 300 people are expected to make the two laps on the course that goes through the Tom Hill Sr. Kroger parking lot, around Northside to Elnora to Riverside drives.

Last year alone, more than $20,000 came in from the race plus donations collected at other Chick-fil-A locations.

All funds raised fund Habitat’s goal of building 46 homes in Lynmore Estates. So far, they have built 29 houses in the struggling neighborhood.

Chick-fil-A office manager Marianna Gebara knows those streets well. She grew up in what used to be known as the Peach Orchard and worked at Five Points Grocery, which her father built.

When Habitat’s development director approached restaurant management to identify a potential home­owner, Gebara started looking through employee schedules for eligible candidates.

Jolly stood out. She had been struggling with high utility bills with space heaters and window cooling units in a rental house without central heating and air conditioning.

“Tina just seemed to be the perfect fit,” Gebara said. “She’s such a hard worker.”

When Gebara pitched the idea during a break one day, Jolly didn’t hesitate.

“She was all excited,” Gebara said.

But when it came time to hear whether she was accepted, a nervous Jolly asked Gebara to make the phone call. She was afraid she’d get bad news.

Instead, Gebara and Clark told her she would be fulfilling her American dream.

“Everybody just started hollering. Everybody was happy for me,” Jolly said.

Even a year later, Jolly breaks out in a big grin when she talks about her house.

“I have a mortgage,” she jubilantly said.

It came with some sweat equity.

Habitat for Humanity home­owners or surrogates must put in at least 300 hours working on the building.

Jolly had plenty of help, including Chick-fil-A regional executives and her co-workers, such as Pete Kiernan, who said it was a wonderful opportunity to learn carpentry skills.

“It was great,” said Kiernan, who was working a morning shift on the cash register Tuesday.

Even customers answered the call to construction to support Jolly, who has become quite the homebody.

She’s planted perky yellow pansies near the curb, adorned the mailbox with autumn leaves and is growing roses in the backyard.

“May the Lord bless this home and all who enter,” reads a sign hanging above the front door in the living room.

“It’s a blessing to come home,” Jolly said.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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