Habitat helps local family to come home

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 14, 2002

It's a long ways from Sudan in northern Africa to Spamtown USA and the house at 308 3rd Ave. SW.

It took two years to get here with side trips to Kansas City, Mo., Sioux Falls, S.D. and Rochester.

But the house is now the home of Santino and Monica Deng their twin 2-year old sons, Ngor and Dongrin, and 4-year-old, Deng, plus Monica's brother, Mamer. Their 10-year-old daughter, Awel, remains in Egypt.

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And, thanks to Freeborn-Mower Habitat for Humanity, and Bethlehem Free Methodist Church of Austin, it's an example of a village raising a family.

Jim Siegel, president of the local Habitat affiliate, welcomed a house full of guests to Sunday's dedication.

When the Deng family was selected and the project began, Siegel said, "I had a feeling about this."

According to Siegel, the project's worth is evident. "We are not just Austin. We are not just Albert Lea. We are not just Freeborn-Mower Habitat For Humanity. We are the world."

The Rev. Mike Ewert, pastor of Bethlehem Free Methodist Church, offered prayers. Louis Anthonisen and Tom Egan offered scripture readings.

Donna Schaefer of the Keepsake Quilters Guild presented a handmade quilt for the family, which, she said, "We hope will keep you warm just as it has warmed our hearts to make it."

Siegel and Hugh Simon presented the Deng family with a Bible and keys to the home.

Keith Barnes saluted the many volunteers who helped make the project possible, including the many contractors and business which donated products and services. So wide-spread is the community's support for the project that Ellis Middle School students are building a storage shed for the family, according to Barnes.

Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz was a special guest and expressed her person and the community's wishes. "We're glad you are here," she said.

When the Deng family spoke, the crowd listened intently.

Monica said being selected for a Habitat home was the "work of God."

She said, "Everything comes from God. This is not a coincidence, but God's plan."

Her husband, Santino, said he has made many friends contributing his sweat equity into helping build the home.

He also said the Deng family can become role models for other refugee families coming to America. "Our being here in this house will do other people good," said Deng, who works for Hormel Foods.

He also spoke of the over four decades of war in his homeland, and the more than 2.5 million deaths of his countrymen and said it was "all a misunderstanding over religion."

Coming to America has reinforced Deng's view "that America is the land of peace, love and opportunity."

The Deng home project was started in May. The house includes four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

The 18th Habitat home will be constructed in Austin early in 2003 for Amy and Ricky Riley, while the 19th home project is slated for Albert Lea.

Present at Sunday's dedication were John and Pam Riley, who were the first Freeborn-Mower Habitat For Humanity family to get a new home built by volunteers.

Also present were other Habitat families, including Debbie Amdahl.

John Riley said the Deng's home dedication "brings back many memories of the day our home was dedicated."

Riley spent one night a week after his regular job ended, helping building the Deng home.

That's Habitat For Humanity for you. Not only do they build homes, but they help raise families, too.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at