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January 16, 2013
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Raising roofs in Summit County's rocky terrain

Once the snow clears, the ground softens and the weather warms up this spring, Summit County's Habitat for Humanity group will break ground on its fourth building project.

The latest site is at Illinois Gulch in Breckenridge, which the organization obtained with help from the county. Once the cold winter conditions have lifted, and building permits are secured, construction will start.

"We're very excited," said Nancy Shockey, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Summit County. "We can't wait for spring to get here."

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit charity organization that extends throughout the United States and internationally. The organization works to provide low-income families with safe, stable, affordable houses.

Families are not just given a home. They must first complete a thorough application process that determines need level, credit status and commitment to living in the area, among other factors. They must pay for the home, although the price is one that will be affordable. Families generally make a down payment on the home and must invest at least 250 hours of their own time and effort in working on the house.

"They feel an ownership in it and they've been involved in it," said Habitat for Humanity board president Bill Musolf.

The houses for Habitat for Humanity are built from the dedication and manpower of volunteers. Summit County's ranks swell by the hundreds, with a variety of ages, backgrounds and skill sets.

"The easiest part is getting people to work on the house," Musolf said. "A lot of people want to show up with a hammer and help out."

The "sweat equity," as the family's required work is called, also serves to emphasize the fact that the family is working to earn the house, rather than simply receiving it, said Shockey.

"This is not a handout. This is a hand-up point of view."

Habitat for Humanity faces a unique challenge in Summit County when it comes to finding appropriate locations for its houses. One issue is the mountainous terrain, which makes flat lots hard to find. Musolf recalls the first house, built in Dillon Valley.

"It was a 45-degree lot, which made building extremely difficult," he recalled. "But we managed to do it."

Not only is flat land difficult to find, but sometimes even just available affordable lots are hard to come by.

"We try to work with Realtors. We worked with the county on this particular piece and we're very grateful to our board of county commissioners for working with us to help provide the land for this build," Shockey said. "It's a challenge because so much of the land here is national forest land, so finding land that can be developed can be a challenge. But it's out there and we'll find it, we're convinced of that."

Other criteria for Habitat for Humanity sites include access to utilities. The organization also works to make sure the location is convenient for the family in other ways, such as proximity to local public transportation.

"We try to locate homes where it's convenient to people," Musolf said, in regards with public transportation and proximity to town.

"We're not asking them to be Daniel Boone," said Shockey.

Habitat for Humanity is about connections - families to houses, volunteers to families, community members to community members. Shockey said things really start to come together once the intended family is chosen.

"As soon as we find a partner family, it gives you something," she said. "It puts a face on it and gives you something to shoot for."

Shockey recalls a story told to her by a Habitat volunteer who had been working with the organization in Florida. He had been given the task of putting up dry wall in one of the rooms and was struggling with it. As he grumbled and tried to figure it out, a little girl walked in with a big smile on her face and proudly proclaimed that this was to be her room, cutting through all his complaints and putting tears in his eyes.

"There's a 101 stories like that, throughout Habitat, of people just simply being touched, whether you are the recipient or the giver," Shockey said. "It's this partnership of just doing what we can to make the world a better place for one family."

Musolf said his favorite part of the entire process is the end, when the key to the house is handed over to the family. They are also given a loaf of bread as a symbol of their new home ownership.

"That's the satisfaction of a job well done and a family a little bit more stable," he said. "That's the best part."


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The Summit Daily Updated Jan 16, 2013 10:43PM Published Jan 16, 2013 10:41PM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.