By Adam Orr
Nearly three years have elapsed since Ashe County Habitat for Humanity set out to build a house in the teeth of the recession, but this month the group’s diligence will finally be rewarded.
“If you asked us when we started if we thought it was going to take this long, we’d of said no,” said Ashe County Habitat for Humanity Vice-President Jeanne Tygielski. “Fundraising has certainly been an uphill battle, but I’m proud of what the group’s done and we’re excited to get started.”
Habitat is an international, non-governmental, non-profit organization devoted to building “simple, decent, and affordable” housing, and is a self-described Christian housing ministry. The group seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world to make decent shelter a matter of “conscience and action”.
Homes are built using volunteer labor and are sold at no profit. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has helped build over 400,000 homes, and served more than 2 million people around the world.
“We use volunteer labor to keep costs low,” said Tygielski. “After the home is completed, homeowners are then responsible for paying a no-interest mortgage that is usually very close to what a rental would cost. The volunteer labor really cuts the overall cost, and makes homeownership affordable for these people.”
Fighting through recession
Ashe County Habitat for Humanity was founded in October 2008, the mid-point of the 2007-2009 recession. As unemployment surged above 11 percent in North Carolina, the group moved ahead with its fundraising.
“It was an incredibly tough time for everyone,” said Tygielski, “but the community really rallied around what we were trying to do.”
Over the past three years, Ashe Habitat has hosted a variety of fundraisers including building and raffling items, this summer’s inaugural Wheels and Wings airshow, and hosting humorist Jeanne Robertson at the Ashe Civic Center. Even in the midst of hard economic times, the group was able to close in on their $95,000 fundraising goal.
The group plans to break ground on its first house Sept. 17, in Buffalo Meadows. To date, work groups from Habitat and West Jefferson First Baptist Church have cleared the ground and prepared the house site for building. Habitat has also introduced itself to the Buffalo Meadows community.
“As part of the ground clearing process, we met many of the Buffalo Meadows residents,” said Tygielski. “We told them who we were, and what we were going to be doing, and we got a really warm reception from everybody; it seems like the perfect community for what we’re trying to do.”
Tygielski said they hope to have the house framed and closed in by Thanksgiving; they’ll apply the finishing touches throughout the winter, and should have the selected family moved in by early next spring.
“Everything is dependent on weather, and we’re a small group,” said Tygielski. “We think an early spring move-in date is fairly conservative, though. We certainly plan to have it all done by then.”
Tygielski said those wishing to help with the construction are more than welcome to join at any point, no experience necessary.
“We’ll be working mostly on Saturdays, and we’d tell anyone who wants to help to come on,” said Tygielski. “If they have construction experience, we could use them as a team leader to supervise and help teach those without experience, but either way, we’ll put anybody who wants to help to good use.”
Habitat’s chosen family, Hannah and Lee Rash and their three children, have worked patiently with the organization over the last three years.
“I really can’t say enough about Habitat; everybody has done a great job to help us,” said Lee Rash in an interview with the Jefferson Post.
Rash said the family’s journey began three years ago, as they tried to fight their way out of a roach infested apartment. Rash was working third shift at United Chemi-Con as a group leader while wife Hannah endured the pain of a ruptured spinal disc.
“The place we were in before was terrible. Sometimes there was running water, sometimes there wasn’t,” said Rash. “The apartment also had holes in the floor, and it was a constant battle against roaches. It was a rough place to raise kids.”
Rash said they were initially accepted for help by Habitat in 2008, but were recertified recently due to the time i’ts taken to scrape together funding; Rash said the couple have also attended classes on budgeting that have been a huge help for the family in cash strapped times.
“It’s incredibly important to know what’s coming in, and what’s going out, and when,” said Rash. “Habitat has provided those classes, and for that we’re grateful.”
Rash said the group has also provided them with tutorials on basic home maintainance, as well as monitoring and servicing the simple solar array that will be provided with their new home.
Tygielski said the Rash’s have worked diligently with Habitat since their selection in the budgeting and maintainance classes, as well as clearing the land for the house.
“We’d like for people to understand that Habitat is not a giveaway program,” said Tygielski. “It’s pretty common that people think we’re just giving homes away, but we’re not. Homeowners have a financial stake in the home and are responsible for the mortgage, insurance, and maintainance on the property. They also donate sweat equity to other Habitat projects.”
To donate to Ashe Habitat’s mission, contact the group at 846-2525, or like the group on Facebook by searching for Ashe County Habitat for Humanity.