Habitat for Humanity group celebrates 20 years, refocuses

She set a goal. Before her son reached age 5, Tee Serrano would own a home. With some help, she met her goal and has lived in her home for four months. 

 

“I have pictures up; the house is decorated,” said Serrano, a hairdresser at Evolve Salon. “It’s definitely comfy, for sure.”

After renting apartments for four years, Ramon Carreon wanted a permanent home for his family. In Oct. 1995, his wish was granted, and financial stability allowed him to grow, he said. 

“At that time, I was doing building maintenance, working for someone else,” Carreon said. “Now, we have our own company.”

Although they received help a decade apart, both of the homeowners are recipients of ranch-style homes constructed by the Central Peninsula Habitat for Humanity. 

On July 21, the nonprofit celebrated 20 years on the Peninsula. Its board of directors opted to hold off this year on building the nonprofit’s 18th home to establish a stronger presence in the community.

In 1992, a group of people who worked under the non-affiliated moniker of Kenai Peninsula Habitat for Humanity decided to strengthen its interests by partnering with the national nonprofit of the same name. The primary movers, as current board member Bill Radtke calls them, gathered initial funds and local businesses grabbed the opportunity to be involved. 

“Companies started to jump in,” Radtke said. “ConocoPhillips, Spenard Builders Supply ... too many to name. The community, as a whole, was really behind it and helped us get established.”

Habitat’s plan for continuance involved building a number of initial homes — the mortgages are paid for by the homeowners at a flat rate for 20 years — then using the incoming money to build a new home, ideally, each year.

In ’92, Radtke said the homes cost about $48,000. Cottage Circle in Kenai consists entirely of Habitat Homes.

Radtke and his wife, Sharon, executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity, became involved with the organization 15 years ago. He started out by pounding nails, but former board members asked for his construction advice, like how to lay a proper foundation. The former teacher has some knowledge in civil engineering, and his skills and continued involvement elevated his position to board member, then president. He served as president for six years, working to outline a continued presence on the Peninsula. 

There were and still are a multitude of contributing companies. During the past three years, however, the number of construction volunteers waned, averaging at about three devotees. The homes also rely on the applicants, and willing friends and family, to reach completion.

Applicants are selected based on certain criteria — level of need, stable income, number of dependants — but Habitat also requires them to put in 500 “sweat hours,” which means they put in that amount of time helping with construction.

Seven family members moved into Carreon’s new home upon completion. Many of them helped with the construction, he said. 

“My kids still have their bedrooms here,” he said. “Some got married, some got jobs. But they helped build it, so they own it, too.”

Carreon continues to make payments on his home, and the money is used for future Habitat homes. 

The initial board’s plan was to build 12 homes and use the funds toward construction costs, but rising prices hampered that plan, Radtke said. 

“With the cost going up, the houses that cost $48,000 when we started now cost $80,000,” he said. “Money has always been a huge hurdle, which is one of the reasons we didn’t build this year.”

Cost and volunteers are the main hurdles, as Habitat already owns a handful of plots of land. People have donated some of the land, Radtke said. 

The nonprofit will resume construction next year. Radtke said the board hopes to increase its volunteer pool, as well as gain new board members. The board generally shifts members every two to four years. 

Habitat is seeking new board members who are passionate about its cause and residents with community relationships, Radtke added. 

“We’d like to have people with certain traits they can bring to the table,” he said. “People who know people, because that helps a lot. 

“We need some new blood in there that will help, and we don’t know how to go about it. We just did it because it was the right thing to do.”

Carreon and his wife said they plan on staying in their home when it’s paid off. They moved to Alaska from California because they wanted a healthier upbringing for their family, Carreon said.

It’s difficult to comprehend what his life would be like without the Habitat home, he said.

“Habitat really helped,” Carreon said. “If you’re not organized they provide you with direction. They not only financially help you, but (also) emotionally and it helps your family grow up healthier.”

Owning a home didn’t sink in for Serrano until they completed construction, she said.

“All of this pressure was lifted as I pictured my son running around the yard,” Serrano said.  

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com. 

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