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Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity

Ida and Gary Laetare found more than a new house through the help of Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity and its partners.

“We feel secure. We feel safe,” Ida Laetare said of their move in 2014 into the home in northwest Cedar Rapids. “We’re more sure of ourselves than we were two years ago.”

The couple spoke as three more families in Cedar Rapids saw their new homes being constructed, right before their eyes. Local builders and tradespeople joined Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity to build three homes in five days during the nationwide Home Builders Blitz in June.

Benton Frey, president of the Greater Cedar Rapids Area Home Builders Association, noted that many of the same professionals had returned for the third time to partner in the week-long blitz. Two homes were built during the event in 2012 and three in 2014. Planning for this year’s work, the majority of which was done by GCRAHBA members, started nearly 10 months ago.

“They donate their time, talent and treasures to make this happen,” Frey said. “It’s a testament to the success of the project that our members do it year after year.”

That success is measured not just in numbers — nationwide, nearly 250 families in 31 states were part of this year’s Home Builders Blitz — but in the far-reaching effects for the families and city as a whole.

“It’s great to build three homes in five days, but really, we’re building community here,” Frey said.

His message resonates with Jeff Capps, executive director of Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity. The nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry is dedicated to building and rehabilitating affordable homes in partnership with families in need in Linn and Benton counties.

“It’s incredibly exciting when you get this level of community support,” Capps said, adding that a typical home build through Habitat for Humanity takes three months. “To build three homes in five days is pretty remarkable.”

The efforts were buoyed by Ply Gem, a North American manufacturer of building products, which served as the presenting sponsor for the Home Builders Blitz, and is donating more than $1 million in windows and other materials as part of its “Home for Good” initiative with country music singer, Alan Jackson.

Local partners building during Habitat’s Home Builders Blitz, in addition to the GCRAHBA, included Elite Custom Builders, Jim Sattler Custom Homes, The Nathan Caraway Company and Sattler Homes & Remodeling. Additional support was provided by Panasonic Ventilation, MASCO Corporation, US LBM Foundation and Columbia Forest Products. Support also was provided locally by Ahmann Design, the City of Cedar Rapids, Housing Fund for Linn County, Ingredion Incorporated and the Linn County Economic Development Fund.

“Most builders who have participated in the Home Builders Blitz say ‘I get back more than I give,’” said Steve Thomas, former host of the PBS show, “This Old House” and “Renovation Nation” on Discovery’s Planet Green channel. “Building houses and renovating houses is rewarding in and of itself, but this makes an impact on the community, as well. You change the trajectory of a family forever.”

Godelive Basheka, originally from the Congo in central Africa, wholeheartedly agrees. She and Musafiri Kasha, also from the Congo, have two children and have been living in a small apartment. Their daughters, ages 3 and 1, will have their own rooms and space to play when they move into their new Habitat home this month, Basheka said.

“I’m very, very happy,” she said. “It’s exciting to have our own house.”

The other two families who partnered with Habitat for their new homes also have children. Angie Bergstad is the single mother of three, and Mushabah Alfani and his wife, Maria Katondo, who lived in a refugee camp for 14 years in Zambia, have four children.

Capps noted that having children is not a prerequisite to participating in the Habitat program. Families qualify based on need, their ability to pay back the zero-interest mortgage on the home and their willingness to partner with Habitat.

Habitat homeowners make a down payment and affordable monthly mortgage payments and invest hundreds of hours of sweat equity into the construction of their homes and other Habitat homes, when possible, or by volunteering at Habitat’s ReStore, 350 Sixth Ave. SE.

Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity will build or remodel a total of seven homes this year, including one being moved in partnership with Dwight Hughes and family, to make way for a park in southwest Cedar Rapids. Since 1988, the group has built or rehabilitated nearly 140 homes.

Since moving from their mobile home two years ago, the Laetares are among the couples and families who are grateful for the life-changing effects of Habitat for Humanity.

“Habitat is more than just a program to us,” Ida Laetare said. “They’re family.”

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