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Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity: Transforming Lives

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Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity
began in 1991 when Concordia College Pastor Phil Holtan heard former President Jimmy Carter speak about Habitat for Humanity. Inspired by his words, Holtan began a Habitat chapter on Concordia’s campus. Interest in Habitat quickly grew and Holtan decided a local affiliate was needed. On June 1, 1991, Habitat for Humanity International officially accepted Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity as the 609th affiliate in the U.S.

In October 1991, Habitat’s Board of Directors chose its first partner family. Three months later, construction was completed and the first Habitat home in Cass and Clay Counties was dedicated with more than 75 people in attendance.

This summer, Lake Agassiz Habitat is celebrating 20 years of building in Cass and Clay counties. Since its 1991 beginnings, Lake Agassiz Habitat has served 40 families in five communities around the area. 2011’s Barnesville Build will mark the sixth community Habitat has served.

“Habitat is affecting the lives of the community and it’s revitalizing the community,” says Habitat Program Coordinator Katie Tucholke.

For the 2011 build season, the organization received a record 150 requests for applications. Of the 41 applications Habitat received, five families were chosen to receive new homes.

“We operate on a hand up, not a hand out mentality,” says Tucholke. “Families work on their own home and are given a zero percent interest mortgage that keeps the monthly payments affordable. Habitat works to break the cycle of generational poverty.”

In order to receive a Habitat home, any adult family member, 18 years and older, must complete 250 hours of sweat equity toward their home. Families are also required to complete 20 hours of education on home ownership. Class subjects include home maintenance, budgeting, green living, pets in the home, interior decorating and more.

Aside from the building of homes, Habitat also operates a successful ReStore that sells used construction and housing materials at reduced cost. According to Habitat’s PR/Marketing VISTA, Hailey Adkisson, more than 1 million pounds of materials were diverted through the ReStore in 2010. The Habitat ReStore has also been instrumental in the deconstruction of flood buyout homes with Habitat participating in such projects. Volunteers were able to go into the buyout homes and remove useful products to be resold at the ReStore.

The Habitat ReStore celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. “The ReStore is instrumental to the work that our affiliate does,” says Adkisson. “Before the ReStore was built, we would complete one or two homes every year or every other year. Since the ReStore began, we have averaged five homes per year for families in need.”

Habitat currently employs six full time employees and two VISTAs, a program run through AmeriCorps. Habitat also operates 10 standing committees. “Our committees consist of business professionals, community leaders, college students, retirees and more,” says Adkisson. “We really have a wide range of people. It’s a great opportunity to network.”

Volunteers are essential to what Habitat does. According to Tucholke, it takes approximately 4,200 hours of volunteer work per home. With five new homes being built in 2011, there will be over 21,000 hours of construction needed during the build season.

At the heart of it all is making a difference for Habitat families. “What we’re doing is transforming lives,” says Executive Director Shirley Dykshoorn. “We’re building safe, affordable, well constructed homes. Those things are life-changing to these families.”

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