Habitat for Humanity of Kosciusko County Helps to Make Dreams Happen

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For a new homeowner, opening the front door to a home for the first time is an unforgettable experience. After all, a home is meant to be a safe place, where hopes, sorrow, dreams, reality, laughter and tears all unite to make a life.

For those who partner with Habitat for Humanity of Kosciusko County (HHKC) to buy a house, the attachment to the home is even more extraordinary. The organization is a developmental charity whose leaders work to give families a secure future.

More specifically, HHKC leaders help families buy simple but safe, energy-efficient homes.

“The most exciting event is when we have the house dedication,” says Mickey Kaufman, HHKC’s executive director. “We all stand around and we talk a little bit, and we pray a little bit. Then we give them the keys and they put the key in that lock, and they unlock their house for the first time. That is so thrilling. It makes the hair stand up on your arms.”

The process begins with a low-income, hard-working family in need of housing due to a variety of circumstances that have led to financial hardship.

“They come [to us] because they can’t find housing here that they can afford, or they’re living with relatives or friends and they can’t stay there anymore,” Kaufman says.

First, the family fills out an extensive application for the Habitat for Humanity program, beginning with a preliminary form on the website.

“That all goes to committee, who looks at all the information and compares it to our criteria,” Kaufman says. “That committee will go out and meet the family, look at their housing situation and talk to them about the process. They’ll come back with a recommendation to the board.”

As soon as a family is accepted, they are assigned a mentor who helps them through the entire process. Sometimes that mentor is someone who went through the program themselves. The mentor helps with every aspect of the program, from assisting during orientation classes and answering questions, to helping the family shop for the new home and helping with transferring children to a new school district. The mentor stays involved with the family for a year after the move.

While the family starts an orientation, the organization begins fundraising and finding volunteers to build the house.

“From the time they get accepted to the time they get into the house, it could be up to two years,” Kaufman says. “We have to raise the money to build the house and we have to build it, which is done by volunteers.”

Each adult in a family is required to devote 250 volunteer hours toward their house or someone else’s.

The family agrees to pay Habitat back for the money used to purchase the property and materials, with a zero-percent interest mortgage managed by Lake City Bank. That money goes toward helping other Habitat families.

“I love [the program] because it’s so dignified,” Kaufman says.

Since 1991, Habitat has built nearly 30 homes across Kosciusko County.

Donations and volunteers are vital to the organization. There are two types of donors – project donors, who give to a specific family, and core donors, who give to Habitat on a monthly basis.

“I had one guy say to me, ‘You know, I’d love for my boys to understand, but they’re too young to go to the worksite,’” Kaufman says. “He said, ‘Every Sunday afternoon, we watch the football game, and we always have pizza. We will give the money we spend on our pizza for one Sunday out of the month.’ That’s what we need – everyone getting involved in some way.”

Volunteer opportunities aren’t limited to on-site work and family mentoring. Habitat typically needs help with locating and purchasing properties, as well as assistance with office work. The ReSale Outlet, a thrift shop with new and lightly used furniture, building supplies and appliances, also accepts volunteers.

“Just give a couple hours,” Kaufman says. “I would love everyone in the county to say, ‘There’s some way that I can do something to help someone get a house and my little piece, combined with everyone else’s little piece, will make it happen.’”

To learn more about Habitat for Humanity of Kosciusko County, or to apply for the program, go to their website at kosciuskohabitat.org. Those interested in volunteering or supporting the organization can contact Mickey Kaufman at mickey@kosciuskohabitat.org, or call 574-269-4104.

The ReSale Outlet is located at 3970 Corridor Drive in Warsaw. Hours of operation are Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 574-314-6603 for more info.

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