Setting down roots; Habitat for Humanity breaks ground on 34th home build

Published 10:46 am Thursday, September 15, 2016

As people left the ground breaking for Freeborn/Mower Habitat for Humanity’s 34th home build, Yaredi Gonzalez-Merlin stuck around the block she’ll soon call home to take it in a bit longer.

“She’s just so happy; she’s out of words,” said Riverland Community College student Oscar Vargas, who translated for Gonzalez-Merlin.

Habitat and Riverland leaders broke ground Wednesday morning on the project to build a home at 707 12th St. NE in Austin for Gonzalez-Merlin and her 1, 7 and 10 year old sons.

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“She’s just very thankful on this beautiful day,” Vargas said while translating for Gonzalez-Merlin.

Habitat Executive Director Brigitte Fisher said she felt blessed to be kicking off Habitat’s second build in partnership with Riverland’s carpentry and electrical program students.

“I’m just so excited to be standing here marking the beginning of this second home build together,” she said. “I know that this partnership is only going to grow stronger, and I’m looking forward to together serving this community and transforming lives and neighborhoods.”

For many years, Habitat relied on the work of volunteers to build its house and often had to hire construction contractors to help lead the work. By the end of a projects, volunteers were spread thin by the work required. Before last school year, Riverland students also built their own house, which they’d sell at the end of the year.

But with Riverland taking the lead, it’s a win-win for the college in educating its students on a build and providing Habitat with reliable, quality work.

“We know that from the ground up, this home will be constructed in an absolutely gorgeous and professional way,” Fisher said.

Riverland students also helped after Habitat received applications to build six handicapped ramps for low-income families in need.

“This partnership has also helped us serve families in really profound ways in just a short time,” Fisher said.

Riverland President Adenuga Atewologun said the college-Habitat partnership is setting a positive standard for partnerships in the community.

“Every time we can make such an investment, there is nothing that can derail that kind of determination,” Atewologun said.

Atwelogun said he hopes the program continues into the future.

Riverland instructors Tom Wilker and Walt Alms will again oversee the students’ work, and Alms said the partnership helps grow what the college is able to do for a family and for additional community members.

“We’re excited to work with them and it’s been a really positive year for us,” Alms said.

Wilker described the program as a vital way for students to learn the value of giving back as they prepare to enter the carpentry field, as he said it’s vital to the industry.

“Besides just learning to be a carpenter, the social skills of being able to learn what this whole process is and being part of the community is an education that we wouldn’t be able to teach otherwise,” he said. “So I appreciate the partnership tremendously.”

The home is already underway so the ceremonial groundbreaking was held a few lots away on land that is expected to be habitat’s 35th build. The home should be fully enclosed by winter.

Fisher said the 34th home will be almost identical to the home built last year for Gabait Nagid and Nasra Damin at 1206 Ninth St. NE. It will be a split-lever, four-bedroom home with a garage attached in the front, but Fisher said it will be a few square feet smaller due to the lot size.

The build will coincide with the school year, and the house will finish before Riverland finishes the 2016-17 school year next spring.

Even with Riverland on board, Habitat volunteers and the partner family still contribute to the build. Gonzalez-Merlin will dedicate up 250 sweat equity hours to the project.

Fisher called the sweat equity by family crucial.

“They also understand things about their home because they’ve seen it from when it was just a dirt hole in the ground and rise up to this beautiful home,” Fisher said. “It creates a sense of pride in the work they’ve accomplished along side of the students and volunteers.”

Each family Habitat works with starts living in substandard housing. Gonzalez-Merlin, who has lived in Austin for about four years, is excited to let her boys grow up in a home where they can have their own rooms and more space than their apartment, which Fisher described as a cold, drafty apartment.

“She’s so excited to get into a home that’s warm and safe,” Fisher said.