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Volunteers build Habitat house for hurricane victims

June 25, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN - On Saturday morning, there was little more than a foundation to suggest somebody's home could occupy a tiny lot on Berner Avenue.

But by afternoon, a group of volunteer builders had assembled the frame, put up the initial outside walls and was working on buttresses for the roof of the 24th house to be built by Habitat for Humanity of Washington County.

With a $65,000 grant from First Data Western Union Foundation, Habitat is building the three-bedroom dwelling for a couple whose McHenry, Miss., home was destroyed last year by Hurricane Katrina.

"They lost everything," Habitat Executive Director Sherry Brown Cooper said.

Cooper declined to identify the couple, just approved for Habitat housing, until permissions had been secured. But she said the couple's troubles had been exacerbated first by a serious illness, then by injuries their adult daughter sustained in a serious automobile accident last month.

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They were by her side at a Virginia hospital Saturday while volunteers from First Data and the Hagerstown Sunrise Rotary Club set to work on their new home.

About 40 of them arrived on site Saturday morning, Cooper said.

"We have young and old and everything in between," she said.

"My dad kinda dragged me into it," 14-year-old volunteer Zach Abeles said. "But I don't mind because it's helping people ... and it's better than the everyday chores you have to do at home."

For Zach, who will be attending North Hagerstown High School this fall and aspires to be an emergency room physician someday, it was all about helping.

For his part, David Abeles said "it's good to have your kids see Dad working."

A financial adviser for Wachovia Securities during the week, the elder Abeles was perched, hammer in hand, atop the wooden frame of what will be a bedroom. Fellow Sunrise Rotarian Joel Rice, a Nationwide Insurance agent, noted they were helping to provide "affordable housing at a time when it's not so affordable."

"It's a great thing to do for people," added First Data's Chris Pizarro, who was working on his second Habitat house.

It's the sixth Habitat house for Charlie Paul, who has served as part-time construction manager for Habitat for Humanity of Washington County for the past year. Flitting from chore to chore and giving direction to the volunteer workers, Paul said four of those houses were in Washington County. The other two were in Alabama.

The Berner Avenue house is being constructed from one of Habitat's standard house plans, Cooper said. In addition to the three bedrooms, it will have a living room, dining area, kitchen, laundry space and one bathroom.

"Simple, decent and affordable," Cooper said, a sort of mantra for Habitat's mission.

The Berner Avenue home is the second First Data has sponsored in Washington County, she said, and is one of eight the foundation is sponsoring nationwide for hurricane evacuees.

Cooper said Habitat is getting more donations for its housing projects than ever, but higher costs for property and fees eat away much of the funds.

But one thing she said she is never short of is volunteers.

Volunteer Sam Powell said Saturday's crew plans to keep volunteering ... "if they'll let us."

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