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Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County nears completion of 22nd home

January 19, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. ? Larry McCarthy and Dan Dunton were spackling drywall seams Friday in a rancher on Candlestick Court that, in a matter of weeks, will become home to a mother and her two children.

"He's the one who talked me into coming in here today," said McCarthy, a member of the volunteer group Helping Hands with a Heart.

Neither of the Fayetteville, Pa., men is a professional, but the job they were doing appeared pretty seamless, and volunteer labor such as theirs has helped put roofs over the heads of 21 families in 15 years in Franklin County.

Dunton said he became involved with Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County through Central Presbyterian Church. The house they were working on is Habitat's 22nd and will be finished by late February or early March, said Michelle Bowen, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Franklin County.

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Recruiting more volunteers and soliciting donations of land, money and materials will be the job of Bowen, who was hired two weeks ago. She is the county organization's first paid staff member.

"By creating the new position and staffing it with Michelle Bowen, we hope to expand our operations and step up our efforts to build homes for qualified and deserving families," Habitat President Harold W. Bricker said in the announcement of Bowen's hiring.

"I've been a volunteer for Habitat for the past year," said Bowen, who retired four years ago as general manager of the Bon-Ton in Chambersburg Mall. She was with Habitat's Family Support Committee, but her duties now include "the fundraising, community involvement and developing a strategic plan for Habitat for Humanity," she said.

In recent years, the Franklin County Habitat organization has built two houses a year, Bowen said. Next to the house where McCarthy and Dunton were working stands another rancher built by the local Habitat, this one the home since December for a single father and his twin daughters, she said.

The organization built two other homes in the same development, and has two more lots on Candlestick Court for future homes, Bowen said. Land, however, no longer is dirt cheap in the county, so Habitat would like to see building lots donated or sold to it at a reduced price, she said.

Building a house with an appraised value in the neighborhood of $175,000 costs Habitat about $75,000, even with much of the labor and materials donated or discounted. The qualified families pay a mortgage, which Habitat holds, of about $450 per month, Bowen said.

They are families that, because of income, cannot qualify for traditional mortgages, but likely would have to pay much more than $450 per month for rental housing, Bowen said. Since the program began in 1993, just one house has gone to foreclosure, and some of the first families are within a few years of paying off their mortgages, she said.

The interest-free mortgage payments also include the taxes and insurance on the home, Bowen said. The money paid back by the families goes toward new houses, but does not match the cost of construction, she said.

Income eligibility is adjusted each year, and the newest adjustment will be coming in a matter of weeks, Bowen said. For 2007, a minimum household income of $22,900 was required.

Like many people, Bowen said her volunteer activities picked up after retirement. She also is president of the Evening Kiwanis Club in Chambersburg, a volunteer at The Capitol Theatre and Old Jail, and an AARP volunteer.

"I worked so many years, and that's all I did," Bowen said. "It's nice to be able to give something back to the community."

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