The smell of barbecue filled the air outside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Soldotna Sunday afternoon as families and business people gathered to celebrate Central Peninsula Habitat for Humanity's 10th anniversary.
The crowd shared a meal of barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, chips, salad and baked beans, chatted and played games. The organization also honored the many community businesses and organizations that have been longtime supporters of the program, providing money and services such as platting and legal advice for housing projects.
In the last 10 years, the organization has built 10 homes for low-income families on the peninsula. Construction on No. 11 is slated to begin in June.
"There's a lot of need for housing. A lot of folks get sifted through the cracks," said Habitat board member Monti Hightower. "We're one way to fill the gap."
Jennifer Waters, Timothy Tickner and their three children, ages 14 months to 5 years, will be the next family Habitat for Humanity stops from falling through the cracks.
The family is currently living in a dilapidated trailer that is not only falling down, but also contributes to their 3-year-old son Timothy's severe respiration problems.
"Getting him into a place that is better for his health is really important to us," said Waters.
The family has applied three times for the program, and construction on their new home will finally begin this summer.
"(Habitat) helps the low-income families with medical problems -- like my son or otherwise -- get into a home that couldn't be obtained otherwise," she said.
But, she added, the program is not a handout.
"It's a partnership," she said. "It's not given to you. It's a no-interest loan."
The program works like this:
Families who are selected to receive help from Habitat for Humanity pay for the cost of materials for their home and commit to donating at least 500 hours to the organization, helping build their home, organizing functions such as Sunday's barbecue and working in the office. Then, work teams from across the country join local volunteers in building the home.
"We don't give them anything," explained Monti Hightower. "We just make it affordable."
"The government takes care of the extremely poor. Those with good jobs take care of themselves, but there are a lot in the middle," added her husband Will Hightower, who is also a board member.
"It seems like a common scenario. We select people living in substandard trailers who just can't get ahead. We give them a leg up," he said. "With that little help, several have gotten their economic situation together and become really strong in the community."
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