Family gets new home in time for Christmas

Published 10:37 am Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It’s enough to make Scrooge smile.

John Lamaack and Jill Vanderweerd and their toddler-age son are getting a new home for Christmas.

The Freeborn-Mower affiliate of Habitat For Humanity will turn over the keys to the house at 607 Ninth Street Northeast, when dedication ceremonies are held Sunday, Dec. 21.

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It’s not a no-strings-attached gift.

The couple have put their sweat equity into helping build the house project, and they will pay monthly mortgage payments.

But it does come from the hearts of the volunteers, who constructed the home.

“The satisfaction for me is giving back to the community, which I didn’t do as much as I wanted to do before retirement,” Rich Chuick said. “Giving back in a way that is church-related — That’s important to me — and in a way that involves children.”

A group of Habitat volunteers along with Sondra Baird, an AmeriCorps/Vista volunteer working for the local Habitat affiliate, talked about the project and their Habitat volunteerism, during a coffee break at the local Habitat headquarters Monday morning.

The volunteers, Barnes, Leif, Tilkes, Louis Anthonisen, Bruce Richardson and Chuick, as well as AmeriCorps/Vista Baird, said the Lamaack-Vanderweerd project is on schedule for completion soon.

“We’re working on the trim right now around the doors and windows. It’s all coming together,” said Barnes, who has assisted on every affiliate build project.

“We will be hanging the cabinets this week, and then install the appliances. The carpet will go down after the dedication.”

Vendors supply much of the materials and assist in big ways, including the excavation for the home’s basement.

Suppliers are very generous, according to the volunteers. One example: a $5,000 grant from ProBuild to purchase building materials. Gutters come from ABC Seamless and carpeting from Belita’s Interiors.

The cabinets come from MinnCor, the state prison system’s agency and were assembled at the Faribault detention facility, according to Chuick.

They were purchased.

When the affiliate has to buy materials and equipment, it’s usually at cost or below.

The three-bedroom home is located along an alley that separates it from the three-story Lincoln school building; now an apartment complex.

There are seven Habitat houses clustered in Austin’s near northeast side.

Before a house is constructed, applicants go through a a thorough screening process before a family is chosen. When that is done, a house plan to suit the family’s specific needs is designed.

Then, Baird, the affiliate’s volunteer coordinator, starts recruiting builders.

It’s a process duplicated daily around the world by Habitat International.

Habitat For Humanity is a nonprofit ecumenical Christian ministry, whose goal is to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness.

Habitat invites volunteers to build houses in partnership with families in need.

Since it’s start in 1991, the Freeborn-Mower affiliate has built 28 homes; 18 in Mower County, where the vast majority are located in Austin, the population center of the County, as well as one each in LeRoy and Adams.

The affiliate has also undertaken rehabilitation projects.

The Lamaack-Vanderweerd house was constructed on a lot made available by a local realty firm.

The work began last June after it was cleared for the new home.

Mid-June rain delays were the only impediment along the way.

Last August, Bill Kleinegger, retired businessman from New York, who grew up in Austria, rolled into Austin in his motorhome and stayed to assist on the Ninth Street Northeast project.

Since 1997, Kleinegger has traveled coast-to-cost assisting Habitat affiliates, building homes for the needy.

“For me, I love being useful,” Kleinegger said, during his Austin visit. “I love building.”

So did Hormel Foods Corporation corporate employees, who assisted on the Lamaack-Vanderweerd house.

The largest single expense of the house-building work may be the fee charged by the city of Austin: $1,300. There are no breaks from the city for the nonprofit ecumenical Christian housing ministry.

The volunteers genuinely seem to enjoy what they do.

Christmas music from a radio was heard Monday in between the ear-piercing sounds of saws, hammers and other tools.

“It’s been a good experience,” Anthonisen said of his involvement with the Habitat affiliate.

Maybe, the “committee” approach to the work makes it so enjoyable.

There’s no “boss” in the affiliate. Everyone works at their own pace contributing in the way they know best.

Dale Akkerman builds the front and rear porch decks at home, then trucks them to the Habitat building sites and attaches them to the homes.

“He’s a master craftsman,” Chuick said of the volunteer.

Tilkes and Leif are retired Hormel Foods Corporation workers. “It’s a great group of people to work with,” Leif said of his contributions.

“It’s not work,” Tilkes said of his. “I enjoy it immensely.”

According to Baird, 70 volunteers have worked on the Lamaack-Vanderweerd project with a core of 10-12 people and an average of 4-8 workers each day.

Television’s Extreme Makeover – Home Edition professes to put up a new “dream” home in one or two weeks.

Habitat’s volunteers put up homes in months at a time with far less fanfare.

Barnes gets emotional when talking about the zealousness of volunteers and his Habitat pride showed when he discussed another popular home-building effort.

“The thing that bothers me,” said Barnes, former site supervisor and now project coordinator, “is that they make a big to-do about one family, but our families are getting their dream homes, too, but it’s all low-keyed.”

Low-keyed until it’s your home and you’re moving in at Christmastime.

The Lamaack-Vanderweerd present will be opened beginning 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21.