By: Rebecca Miller
When one hears Habitat for Humanity mentioned, the first thought is probably, “Oh, Yeah! That is the group that President Jimmy Carter built homes with after his presidency.” That would be correct, but when one hears that the group is building a home in their community, there are many misconceptions that most likely follow. The organization even has a flyer entitled Myths and Truths, to debunk the most common misconceptions, which can be read in the sidebar.
In their communications, they explain Habitat for Humanity International as “a nonprofit Christian housing ministry….that seeks to eliminate poverty housing from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.” Right here in Northwest Ohio, there are a number of counties that are active in this ministry.
Presently a 1260 square foot home for a family of five is being built on Zenobia in Wauseon, on one of three adjoining lots, which were a generous donation a few years ago. This is the first time Fulton County Habitat, which started in 1999, has used this particular blueprint and they like it so much they hope to use it again.
Habitat is “not a custom builder”, but the people who will live there do own the home and they are paying for it, so some amenities are included to make it as nice of a new home as possible. Recently they have started adding central ac when the furnace is installed, because it is more cost effective to do at the time of construction and it raises the value of the home.
In Fulton County, Executive Director Heidi Kern is the only paid staff and wears many hats. She says she is able to be successful with them because of the amazing group of core volunteers and board members with whom she works. “I hope sometime in the future to be able to have other paid staff,” Kern said, “but I have passionate volunteers, some who put in enough hours for it to be a part time job.”
When a home is built, the Habitat Partner, (who could be an individual, a couple or a family with children), also puts what is called “sweat equity” sweat equity which is a habitat term for what they do in place of interest. They work on the house, do other community volunteer work and often get very involved in their community, giving back to help others. Since the group builds about one house a year, they can also participate in that.
They work alongside a construction committee made up of anyone who wants to be involved behind the scenes. The Fulton County Construction Chair, Pastor Erich Christman, puts in hundreds of hours doing the work and directing those who come to help. “It can be anyone from individuals to large groups,” Kern said. One time they even had a group of 50 sign up to help, which was a bit much but they were able to find plenty for all of them to do. Volunteers do need to sign up ahead of time, and not just show up at the site. Forms are available at the website.
Kern, who has a degree in business and marketing and had been working in a business which she and her husband owned, was hired by the Fulton County Habitat for Humanity in 2011. “It was perfectly timed,” Kern said, “We were in the process of selling our business and I saw the ad in the paper and got the job!” She exudes a love for her position and what she gets to do in helping others. “Every job has things that aren’t perfect, but I love what we do,” she added.
Over the years she has seen incredible changes in families, especially in children, because they get to have their own home, and even their own room. She explained that the change in the family can be huge even to the point that down the road they are living a life with no government assistance at all. It builds their self esteem so much and breaks generational poverty.”
Each Habitat group is run by a local board along with a number of committees of volunteers who cover every aspect from selection of a family, to support and mentoring, repair of homes and church relations. Each family, or Habitat Partner, who is chosen gets a mentor who helps them with budgeting and financial council.
The homes are paid for mainly through donations, but they do also get some grants. Many of the supplies are donated by local and national or international businesses, bringing down the cost of the home for the Partner/buyer. “Donors are amazingly generous,” Kern shared. “The Habitat Partner does pay for the house. It is not free. They pay back, with the interest not being in money, but the mortgage is set up for them with the help of their mentor and they eventually get it paid off.”
“The average mortgage payment for Habitat homeowners in Fulton County this year is $439 a month including Escrow, which is so much more do-able that the $750 which is the average cost of rent. While paying it back, they become vested in their community and they don’t ever have to move again if they don’t want to. It gives stability to people who may never have experienced that.”
Concerning donations, Kern said that Whirlpool, an international company, provides a brand new stove and refrigerator for every Habitat home that is built. They also offer a special discount on the purchase of other appliances. For example, if a Habitat Partner wants to add a dishwasher or washer and dryer, it can be figured into the mortgage up to $1000, so that the appliances can be put in during construction, which is easier.
One of the aspects about which Kern spoke passionately was how it affects children. “When a child sees their parent work as hard as they do to get this house, doing all they do from 6 months to 2 years to be a Habitat Partner, it stirs in them a sense of work ethic and realization that they can succeed, too. Besides that it helps them in school, in society and even in their own family relationships.”
Kern also pointed out that the mission of Habitat for Humanity International is supported because “we love to help others who are not just getting something for nothing.” They say it best in their information: “Habitat for Humanity of Fulton County Ohio believes that every man, woman, and child in Fulton county should have a decent, affordable place to call ‘home’.
“Since 1999 we have completed 17 new houses, recycled 5, moving 22 families, including more than 52 children, from substandard housing into decent, affordable homes that they helped build and are now purchasing. Those families, those children, now live, play sleep and study in a safe place. habitat builds with hard-working, very low-income families who make as little as $14,500 per year.”
“They work a minimum of 250 hours on their own house and on other Habitat projects. The average cost of a Habitat house is $68,740. these funds come from the faith community, service clubs, businesses/organizations, corporations, individuals and the mortgage payments from our Habitat homeowners. Habitat for Humanity is the largest private homebuilder in the United States. This is an amazing accomplishment considering 80% of the work on every Habitat house is done by volunteers.”
To find out how you can get involved or about eligibility, information can be found online at the website or by calling 419-335-7000 to request an application packet.
Rebecca can be reached at email@example.com