Raise the Roof helps fund Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga

photo Joshua DuBois, former executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, left, congratulates Kual Ayai on his new Habitat for Humanity home at 1127 E. 14th St. on Friday.

A South Sudanese refugee, who with his wife and daughters escaped the brutal war in that country, will become a South Chattanooga homeowner next month because of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga.

"To seek security for my family, I moved away from my country," Kual Ayai, dressed in a suit and tie, said while standing in his new home.

His wife, Adut Ayai, talked with visitors on the front porch while his three daughters played in the yard and sang the chorus from a Katy Perry hit: "You're gonna hear me roar."

It is the beginning of a new life for the Ayai family, one free from warfare and violence, said Joshua DuBois, a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama. DuBois is former executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and author of the bestseller, "The President's Devotional: The Daily Readings that Inspired President Obama."

"This is what Habitat is all about," said DuBois, who was in Chattanooga on Friday to deliver the keynote speech for Habitat's second-largest fundraiser of the year, Raise the Roof.

The event drew a crowd of about 350 people.

"Habitat is not only providing people with homes, but with futures," Dubois said. "They're providing access to a whole new life. That takes on even more meaning with folks like Kual Ayai and his family because of all that they have endured."

Habitat is sending ripple effects through neighborhoods all around the country. The organization helps change lives and provides foundations for strong communities, DuBois said.

Before speaking Friday night, he spent the afternoon visiting Habitat employees and homeowners like the Ayai family.

David Butler, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Chattanooga, said the event not only compliments employees for the work they do, but also raises funds needed to continue the organization's work.

"These houses don't get built by themselves," he said.

Butler wants to raise enough money to help build eight to 10 homes this year and have enough funds remaining to make repairs on other Habitat homes already built, he said.

It costs about $105,000 to build a Habitat house, including materials, tools and supplies. As of October 2013, Habitat of Chattanooga has built 246 homes for families in need, according to the organization's website. Families are accepted into the Habitat program based on their need and their ability to repay a no-interest mortgage, according to the website.

Ayai's older girls, 11-year-old Anyang and 9-year-old Aboijang, sang louder while playing outside as their father walked through the house.

"I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire," they sang. "'Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or call 757-6431.