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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Habitat Builds Families by Building Houses

Building families by building houses

By DAVID THOMPSON - dthompson@sungazette.com

DAVID THOMPSON/Sun-GazetteShane and Amy Miller with their daughters, from left, Kierstin, 9, Alexa, 1, and Kaitlyn, 6, Wednesday during a dedication ceremony of their new Habitat for Humanity home on Charles Street. At far left is Rev. John Phillips, of Crossroads Community Church, Jersey Shore. At far right is Scott White, executive director of the Williamsport-Lycoming Habitat for Humanity.

Shane Miller could barely contain his emotions Wednesday as he thanked those involved with building the Habitat for Humanity home that he and his family began moving into later that day.“It means a lot,” he said. “I can’t say in words how important this is.”Miller, who spoke during a dedication of his home at 1139 Charles St., had a difficult time expressing his gratitude not only because of his emotions, but because there were simply so many people to thank.

The agency fulfills its mission of building affordable housing for low-income families by tapping into a wide range of funding sources, materials donors and volunteers.The agency counts STEP Inc., and city and county governments among its most valuable partners. Companies such as Wells Fargo provided large monetary donations for the project and PPL provided solar hot water heaters, agency board president Alice Fox said.

Miller acknowledged that he hadn’t met many of the people involved with the project, but told those attending the dedication that their work touched his entire family.Miller, his wife Amy, and daughters Alexa, 1, Kaitlyn, 6, and Kierstin, 9, are the second family to take ownership of a home at Ivy Way, the Williamsport-Lycoming Habitat for Humanity’s four-house project on the city’s east side.

The agency’s first multi-unit project was named after the late Ivy Wray Dawson and includes three houses on Charles Street and one on Sheridan Street. The agency dedicated the first home, which is next door to the Millers, in February.

Shane Miller said he and his family previously lived Jersey Shore in a two-bedroom mobile home, which was inadequate.The new house will not only provide more space, but incorporate the most energy-efficient technology and building materials available, Fox said.According to Fox, Robin Rotoli, Ivy Way’s first home owner, is paying an average of $77 a month in electrical bills.

Agency construction chairman David Daneker said Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to eliminate substandard housing and through its partnerships, it is doing that.Houses are built to the highest standards to give families the best chance of succeeding as home owners, he said.

But the agency builds more than houses, Daneker said. “What we are really doing is building families, building relationships and building homes,” he said. “The way we do that is by building houses.”Daneker said that many people have misconceptions about homes built by Habitat for Humanity, such as that homes are given away.

On the contrary, home owners must take a out a no-interest mortgage on the homes and put hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” into their homes while it is being built. That posed a problem for Miller, who works for Waldman Electric. His work schedule made it difficult to work at the construction site. However, Miller’s employer, Steve Waldman, allowed him to change his schedule so that he could work on the house every Tuesday and Saturday.

Miller said that without his boss’s cooperation, it’s doubtful he would have been able to get the required amount of hours in. Waldman also provided company vehicles to help the Millers move into their home.Miller thanked his and his wife’s parents for their support, especially for babysitting while the couple worked on the house, and added that he was also grateful for the help and patience of agency construction manager Larry Keisner. Keisner presented the Millers Wednesday with keys to their new house.

“(Keisner) is a very understanding foreman,” Miller said. “He takes each and every person and works with them.”Habitat for Humanity volunteers Sue Wright and Gayle Peters-Coates presented the family with a Bible and Rev. John Phillips, pastor of Crossroads Community Church, Jersey Shore, presented a scripture lesson from Matthew 7:24-27, and offered a dedication prayer.

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s Williamsport branch filled the Miller’s food pantry with food, and the James V. Brown Library donated age-appropriate books for the children.Miller said that he was unaware of the quality of housing the agency provided until he became involved in building his own house.

“God really came through and answered a lot of prayers,” he said of being selected as a home owner.

The seeds to the local Habitat for Humanity were sown in 1984 when Ben and Ruth Keller spent two weeks working on a Habitat for Humanity project in Americus, Ga., where the group is headquartered.

The couple said they were so impressed with the group, they decided to purchase, for $35, the group’s “how-to” manual.The local group’s first project — a home rehabilitation — was launched in 1989.

To date, more than 30 homes have been built in Lycoming County and a five-unit project has been proposed for a parcel of land near the city’s Historic District.“Once you get into it, it becomes a big part of you,” Ben Keller said. “Especially when you see the families receive the homes, like today.”

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