Habitat group prepares to build | AspenTimes.com

Habitat group prepares to build

Habitat for Humanity, the ecumenical Christian home-building organization that uses volunteer labor and donated money, materials and land to build homes for people in need, has spent the last year quietly organizing a chapter here, in one of the wealthiest valleys in the world.

But the quiet part of the Roaring Fork Valley chapter’s mission is coming to an end. A fund-raising drive is under way, and by the end of next year, the organization hopes to have its first family housed and be well along with its second home.

“There are many people in this valley in dire need of housing. They’re living below the poverty line,” said Gwen Dickinson, local chapter spokeswoman.

The chapter is using stories from some of those most in need in fund-raising letters aimed at convincing some of the valley’s more fortunate homeowners to donate money, material and land to the cause. If all goes as planned, stories like the one about a family living in a pick-up truck trailer will coax potential donors into giving $30,000 by the end of December and $65,000 by next July.

The letter tells how both parents live in the pick-up truck camper with their teen-aged son and handicapped daughter. Everyone except the daughter works, but, in spite of its plight, the family has managed to stick together and the son has graduated high school.

Dickinson said the idea for a local chapter came from valley residents who donate to the group’s international organization. “They wanted to see their money working here as well,” Dickinson said. The first chapter’s first meeting was held in September 1998 in Carbondale and drew between 100 and 150 people.

A kick-off grant from a local law firm, which Dickinson said wanted to remain anonymous, helped get things started. Since then, the group has met monthly to plan its first house and finish off the organizational work needed to satisfy Habitat for Humanity’s guidelines and the Internal Revenue Service’s requirements for tax-exempt status.

Now the group is ready to begin construction on their first house. Dickinson wouldn’t say exactly where it will be built or even what county it will be in. She just said the group is negotiating with the government that has jurisdiction over the site, which is somewhere in the midvalley. The plan is to have all of the permits they need in order by April, so construction can be completed by year’s end.

Habitat for Humanity selects the occupants of a house before construction starts, and then requires them to build and pay for it themselves, with the help of volunteer labor and financial assistance from the organization, according to a Habitat for Humanity fact sheet.

The process starts with families and individuals applying for a home. Then, the local chapter’s family selection committee reviews the applications and visits the most promising applicants at home, to see what kind of conditions they are living in. A final selection is made based on the family or individual’s situation, their willingness to become partners in the program by helping others build their homes, and their ability to repay a no-interest loan.

Once a family is selected, a site is cleared and all of the materials are lined up, construction begins. While volunteers are critical to get the job done, especially with tasks that require skilled labor, the people who log the most time on the project are the future homeowners. Once the house is completed, the family is given an interest-free loan to cover the cost of construction.

The cost of houses varies depending on where they are built. In some Third World countries, the price tag can be as low as $700, while in the United States it averages $41,300.

Applications for the first two homes built here will be available at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Days Inn in Carbondale.

Habitat for Humanity gained national prominence in the early 1980s, when ex-president Jimmy Carter became the group’s most prominent volunteer. The organization makes no effort to hide its Christian roots, and the references to God run throughout its literature. But the same literature emphasizes Habitat for Humanity’s dedication to housing any and all in need, and the “ecumenical, international” nature of its management.

Dickinson said religious affiliation isn’t required to qualify for a home.

To volunteer or make a donation, call 920-0121 or 963-6666.

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