Don Hensley knows these streets like the back of the hands he used to build many of the houses that line them.
He has hammered and sawed his way down Roy Avenue. He has climbed roofs on Irving Avenue and through crawl spaces on Melvin Place.
Just as the streets in Lynmore Estates were named after people, Don has gotten to know the people who live in the 43 homes he has helped build with Habitat for Humanity.
“I don’t try to remember addresses,’’ he said. “I try to remember names so when I see them, I can speak to them.’’
He was a volunteer on the crew that built the first new home when the Lynmore Estates Revitalization Project began a decade ago. He joined the Habitat staff as building coordinator and construction manager on New Year’s Day in 2006.
Over the past nine years, he has left his glove prints on fuse boxes, door frames, floor joists and attic trusses across the south Macon neighborhood sometimes known as the Peach Orchard.
A luncheon will be held in Don’s honor Friday at the Golden Corral. He is retiring from what has been a rewarding second career.
He was among the first group of employees hired by Brown & Williamson when it opened in Macon in 1976. He worked there for 27 years, eventually moving into management.
That was his job. Habitat for Humanity has been his mission.
He never knew the feeling himself of owning his own home until he and his wife, Lynn, bought a house on Vacation Drive in Shurlington 39 years ago. It was the first place he had lived that had air conditioning.
“People ask me how I can say I am blessed when I grew up in an orphanage,’’ he said.
He shares his story. They listen. They understand.
He was the youngest of seven children. His father died when he was 2 years old. His mother was killed in a car accident before he turned 5.
Within a week, he was placed in the Baptist Home for Children (now the Florida Baptist Children’s Home) in Jacksonville.
He spent 10 years there. When he was 8, his chores included milking cows and tending to the livestock on the property. He dedicated his life to Christ when he was 12 years old while attending a Billy Graham Crusade at the Gator Bowl stadium.
When he was 14, he went to live with his half-sister in Monticello. His high school football coach, Bobby Holland, became a guiding influence in his life.
After his sister divorced, the family moved 15 miles down the road to the tiny community of Round Oak. He played football his senior year at Jones County High for Coach Ken Smallwood, who was another father figure.
Don helped his sister look after her two young children. He got a part-time job at a local market, where he once met singer Otis Redding, who had a home in Round Oak.
Six days after he graduated from high school, Don packed everything he owned in two grocery sacks and sailed off to join the Navy. He was stationed in the Philippines, where he served as a jet mechanic during the Vietnam War.
He came to Macon in 1971. He met Lynn and married the next year. He was only 52 years old when he retired from Brown & Williamson. He and Lynn combined their names to form Lyndon Construction. He remodeled kitchens and bathrooms for three years until B&W asked him to supervise the removal of the equipment as the plant began shutting down its operations in 2005 and early 2006.
Don applied at the post office for a good-paying job with benefits. After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, there was a hiring freeze, so he interviewed for an opening at Habitat.
The post office called back a week later, offering him a position with a higher salary. He turned it down. He knew he was where he needed to be.
The Macon Area Habitat for Humanity is a Christian-based housing ministry. It has built 98 new homes in the community since 1987. Don has supervised the construction of almost half of them.
He also has traveled on more than two dozen mission trips with his church, Mabel White Memorial Baptist, and has participated in Rebuilding Macon projects.
Habitat is not a “giveaway” housing program. It provides an opportunity for families to receive a “hand up, not a hand out.” Homeowners are required to pay back the cost of their new house with an interest-free mortgage, and they are expected to invest at least 300 hours of “sweat equity” into the construction of their home.
Don believes the policy remains true to the old proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’’
It takes about three months to complete a Habitat home. Often, a dilapidated house has to first be torn down and removed from the property. Under Don’s hands-on leadership, staff members work on the house during the week, then are joined by volunteers on Saturdays.
But it’s never only about building houses. It’s about building relationships. Don encourages residents to keep up the maintenance on their homes and take pride in their yards. He tries to set a good example by picking up trash in the neighborhood.
He has watched as it pays itself forward.
Eleven years ago, he befriended a 9-year-old boy who lived in the neighborhood. He tossed the football with him. Over the years, he encouraged him to keep up his grades and finish high school.
Last year, as Don was finishing work on a house one afternoon, the young man stopped by.
“He said he had something he wanted to show me,’’ Don said. “He went home and got his diploma and brought it back for me to see.’’
The young man now works for Habitat.
Another hammer has been passed.