Burned Out: An Elk River apartment fire led Pamela Jenson to Habitat for Humanity.
Night after night Pamela Jenson fell to sleep listening to her twins’ lullaby music. She lay inches from the toddlers, their three beds crammed side-by-side in the small apartment bedroom. Her teenage son and daughter slumbered down the narrow hallway.
Jenson thought about ways to make life better, about how this place was an upgrade over the last one where she slept in a closet. The morning of September 20, 2009 everything changed. Jenson stepped out of the shower and heard screaming in the hallway. Moments later, she and her four children were outside watching as flames violently coursed through the Elk River apartment building.
Jenson went numb.
“You’re a mom, you have to stay strong for your kids and tell them it’s going to be all right,” Jenson said.
It’s people just like Pamela Jenson who’ve had their hopes answered by Habitat for Humanity. Through the power of community volunteers, Habitat partners with families to build simple, safe and affordable housing.
Since 1997, Habitat volunteers have built more than 1,500 homes in Minnesota. The agency has 35 independent branches statewide and receives assistance from more than 30,000 volunteers each year.
In central Minnesota, the agency has moved 54 families into affordable homes since 1990. Last year, 779 volunteers clocked more than 11,000 service hours. The homes go to low-income families living in substandard housing who must contribute 200 hours of sweat equity to their home. They are also responsible for paying the mortgage and utilities.
Central Minnesota Executive Director Bruce Johnson anticipates that eight of the ten families that Habitat will assist in 2010 will assume ownership of rehabilitated foreclosures. “It has really altered our ground-up build model and flipped it on its ear,” he said.
Habitat received federal funds to purchase the foreclosed homes and additional funds through St. Cloud’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program allocation to renovate them. The homes go to people who need them, vacant properties are filled, and builders are back to work, Johnson said.
“Without the federal dollars and opportunities through foreclosures we would have seen a decline in production by two homes a year,” Johnson said. “But we’re still having a hard time finding resources to do what we’ve been doing.”
Traditionally, the building industry has supplied 20 percent of the labor and materials for each build. With the economy that hasn’t been an option, Johnson said.
In 2010, Central Minnesota Habitat plans to launch a new pilot program, A Brush with Kindness, to help income-eligible families make repairs to their existing homes. Over time the beneficiaries would help pay back the cost of the materials.
The agency also plans to open a St. Cloud area home improvement store to sell discount building materials from demolition projects and extras from builders. Johnson hopes the store will generate income for future builds.
“One of the most effective ways to help someone out of poverty is to give them an opportunity to build equity in their own home." - Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation
According to Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation senior program manager, the foundation has invested $68,000 in grants to Habitat for Humanity because the agency maximizes volunteers and helps people to help themselves, which creates a sense of ownership, responsibility and community service.
“One of the most effective ways to help someone out of poverty is to give them an opportunity to build equity in their own home,” Hickman said. “People have to show they’re ready for that responsibility and are willing to work for it. Habitat does a great job selecting families, and they’re definitely part of the foreclosure solution.”
Pamela Jenson first learned about Habitat when she went to an informational meeting to volunteer, planning to give back to the city that supported them after the fire. She left with forms to apply for a Habitat home. Six weeks later she was approved for a new home, which she and her kids helped build themselves.
“I walk in here and I can’t believe this is our house,” Jenson said. “It’s too amazing.” IQ