A Family’s Unforgettable Gift

BERLIN – The gift of homeownership and stability came early for one local family last week with the dedication of the latest Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County house in Berlin, renewing faith and the spirit of generosity in the community during the holiday season.

The latest Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County home on Flower Street was recently completed and officially dedicated on Dec. 12 with dozens of local Habitat volunteers, local and state elected officials, clergy and, most importantly, the recipients on hand. While the residence is virtually finished, save a few minor last-minute details, the new homeowner, a local single mother with three children, will not move in until after the formal closing on the property, likely early in January.

Like most Habitat for Humanity recipients, the mother of three, including the oldest who is autistic, is a working member of the community in need of a leg up during difficult times. She has worked in a local salon for several years while raising three children and is a perfect candidate for a new home with the help of the program, according to Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County president Martha Moskowitz.

“They are just a wonderful family,” she said. “This family is so deserving. The kids are just precious and the mom does the best she can for them, but they struggle at times and she was concerned with the future. This gives them a leg-up, which is what this program is all about. In all my years, I’ve never seen anybody so grateful.”

The local Habitat program is open to families who live and work in Worcester and the new recipients certainly fit the bill.

“All of our families are part of the workforce,” said Moskowitz. “All of our people are working. Part of our message or motto I guess is this is a hand up, not a handout.”

The faith-based organization utilizes local contractors, architects, electricians, plumbers and other professionals, all of whom contribute their efforts pro bono. The organization also relies on a corps of citizen volunteers to bang nails, paint, lay carpet and everything else needed to construct a new home, all under the guidance and supervision of professionals.

To date, the local Habitat program has constructed 13 new homes for deserving recipients in Worcester with a couple more in the planning and approval process. The latest project sits on one of three lots on Flower Street with plans in the works to develop the other two. One of the projects could get underway early in 2010.

On the surface, the Habitat program appears to be all about walls and floors and roofs, and it is to a large degree. But more importantly, the organization is essentially a ministry with the final product merely an extension of the faith and generosity of the countless volunteers that make it happen.

“First and foremost, we’re a ministry,” said Moskowitz. “We’re a builder and a lender, but above all else is our ministry. This is a way of putting faith into action.”

Habitat recipients are required to participate in the construction of their new home and most go above and beyond what is required. For example, a single parent is required to put in at least 200 hours while a two-parent family is required to commit 400 hours. The latest recipient for the new home in Berlin was close to meeting her commitment when the home was dedicated on Dec. 12.

“She was completely dedicated to this project,” said Moskowitz. “She was out there every weekend, all weekend despite having a full-time job and raising these three wonderful kids.”

Each recipient is required to complete HUD-certified homeownership classes and financial preparedness classes at around 10 hours each.

“Those classes are just as important as any physical work the recipients commit to the construction of the homes,” said Moskowitz. “Getting them into the homes is the first part, but teaching them how to manage them is just as important. It’s part of their sweat equity.”

Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County is made up entirely of volunteers with no paid employees. It operates on a shoestring budget fueled almost entirely on the generous donations from the community. Just recently, the local program received a potential fiscal shot in the arm with an award of $27,000 in state income tax credits.

“We’ve never received any of those state tax credits in the past,” said Moskowitz. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to encourage people to donate to the program with a tax benefit, and not just businesses, but also individuals.”

Under the tax credit program, if a business or individual donates $1,000 to the local Habitat program, the donor gets a $500 deduction on his or her state income tax. Or, if a donor gives $500 to the program, he or she can write off $250 and so on. The local Habitat program now has $27,000 worth of tax credits to work with, which could be used to stimulate donations.

“That’s really important for us,” she said. “In tough economic times, it’s sometimes difficult to get people to open their hearts and wallets, but we have the opportunity to give them something back. We rely on donations and this can help us.”