Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity celebrates 20 years

 

BUILD: A volunteer kneels on beams as he focuses on the task at hand. (Courtesy photo)

MECOSTA COUNTY – Twenty years and 29 houses later, Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity continues to give low-income people the chance to own a home of their own.

Phil Stich, co-chair of the construction committee, has been a part of the organization since its establishment. He has worked on every Habitat house in Mecosta County.

“The price of materials has gone way up,” Stich said. “The first house was $29,000 and we are over $100,000 on our houses now.”

Not only has the price to build risen, so has the quality of the homes built.

“We have changed the way we build,” Stich said. “We build some of the most energy efficient houses in the county right now.”

In order to be considered by Habitat, families have to demonstrate they can make a regular mortgage payment but cannot qualify through a bank. They have to have a “decent” credit history, and make at least $20,000 annually.

LABOR OF LOVE: A group of volunteers work during the beginning stages of a build. (Courtesy photo)

“You would think there would be hundreds of applications, particularly given the economics of our county,” said Dee Van Horn, past president of Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity. “But we don’t have that. One of the problems is that people don’t make enough money. Others think it is a giveaway program and they are not interested in working. And there are some who make too much to qualify.”

Habitat families are required to put in 250 hours of “sweat equity” per adult in the household. Stich said some families are more involved in the building process than others.

“There are a few stars that you will always remember because they are so good,” he said. “We had one family where the wife would be out there with us during the day, and the husband came at night and cleaned up the worksite so we didn’t have to do it the next morning.”

Over the years various church groups, organizations at Ferris State University and local businesses have donated their time and financially assisted Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity, but Van Horn said about 20 volunteers continue to show up.

“They are ‘the regulars,’ and if one corner isn’t perfect, they tear it out and do it again,” she said. “They insist that their house is perfect.”

“We rebuild stuff if we have to,” added Stich.

After 20 years, Stich said the reason he continues to work with Habitat is the same – Habitat helps people live better lives.

“I ran into the owner of the third house,” he said. “We were talking and she said, ‘When I was growing up, we were poor and I must have moved 20 times before graduating high school. I’ve lived in this house, and my kids have lived in this house, throughout their whole education.’ She was almost crying.”

Van Horn said seeing the excitement on kids’ faces as they show off their new home keeps her going.

“There are days when I go, ‘I’m really getting tired.’ But then you go to a house dedication, and all you have to do is watch these little kids. I still think about these kids and the joy on their faces. They have a room, something that’s theirs.”

It isn’t always easy, Van Horn said, and families get behind on their payments, but Habitat tries to work with them to keep them in their home.

“Our mission is to make sure these families are successful homeowners,” she explained. “They need to understand that we are there for them.”

Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity will soon be expanding its services to include a store that will sell donated non-clothing items. The new venture is expected to begin in August.

For more information about Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity, visit mecostahabitat.org, or call (231) 972-2100.

A HOME OF THEIR OWN: A family will soon move in to the 29th Mecosta County Habitat for Humanity house, located in Morley. (Courtesy photo)

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Posted by Miranda Roberts

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