Habitat project takes next step

MANCHESTER - A neighborhood is transforming for new homeowners in the Manchester community.

Volunteers with the Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity gathered on Saturday, to contribute their time and energy in building homes for local families who will soon benefit from their efforts.

Dick Malley, executive director for the county-wide organization, said as many as 22 homes will be built on or near Jennifer Avenue.

"We put a lot of love into them, but we also use only good materials," said Malley, who has been involved with the organization since moving to Vermont more than a decade ago.

Half will be built by Habitat for Humanity, with the second half being built by Vermont Traditional Builders.

The first 11 homes will be offered as interest-free mortgages to families whose income does not exceed 70 percent of the median income for their family size, and the second batch will go to families within the 125 percent median income range.

A ceremony was held before work got started on Saturday to celebrate the completion of the infrastructure on the road.

"We had to put in a new water line for the entire road, at our own expense," said Malley, who explained that extending the development required the implementation of a 8" water pipe and the removal of the pre-exisiting 4" one.

"The town also required us to pave the road, and we just finished doing that about a week ago," he said.

Malley's wife Kathy, a member of the family selection and support committee of Habitat's local chapter, estimated that over 3,000 hours of volunteer labor goes into each home.

"When we choose families, we not only pick them, but we work together with them to be successful as homeowners," she said.

Each family is still required to pay the mortgage on their new home, as well as homeowner insurance and property taxes at an affordable housing rate; and they will continue to receive guidance for the first year on their new purchase.

Shannon Gordon is one of the local community members who will soon move to Manchester from Pownal, where he currently lives with his wife Lori and their five children.

"I haven't stopped smiling since I found out," said Gordon, noting that their current living arrangement is a tight squeeze.

"The education my kids will receive alone is going to make it all worth it," said the soon-to-be homeowner, who volunteers every Wednesday and Saturday to help with construction, sometimes working late nights at his regular job in Bennington with little sleep.

The Gordons' five children range in age from 2-years-old to 12, and were excitedly discussing living arrangements in the five-bedroom home on Saturday.

Alexa, 6, read a letter to those in attendance Saturday morning, thanking them for helping with her new home with her family.

The children also held a fundraiser at their school in Pownal, raising over $100 with their "Change for Change" campaign, in which students collected spare silver to contribute to their classmates' move.

A lot of the people who work in this area can't always afford to live here," said Malley, who said the cost for the land they're building on alone was approximately $185,000.

A second house next door is also in progress. Although the nonprofit organization doesn't custom-build, if a family has special needs the builders attempt to meet them, as is the case in the neighboring home, which requires a downstairs bedroom for a family whose child finds difficulty climbing stairs.

Two houses across the street have been completed and are occupied.

Students from Stratton Mountain School were on hand over the weekend to contribute to the building projects in the cold weather. Of the juniors and seniors volunteering, several had also worked on the finished homes.

English teacher Kim Cope Tait said the students told her it felt rewarding to see the finished outcome.

"They worked on building that porch," said Cope Tait, nodding to the home across the street. "It's cool for them to be here and see what is being done. It's a good learning opportunity."

Over the weekend, work for the students consisted of hanging plywood and working on the second-story floor of the newly framed house.

"It's nice being a part of this," said senior Kazia Karwowski, 17. "And it was nice getting to meet the family, that really shows what we're doing here." The other roads being built off of Jennifer Avenue will have approximately 3-4 homes on each, and are named for those whose contributions and vision to the organization were instrumental, according to Malley.

Irene Way is named for the late Irene Hunter, whose daughter Susie Hunter was there for the ceremony to support her mother's strong interest in the community project.

Peggy Way is named for Peggy Nichols, a long-term Manchester resident and key organizer whose son David is on the Board of Directors for the Bennington County chapter of Habitat.

Thirdly, Chandler Way is named for Harry Chandler, another long-term member of Bennington Area Habitat.

For information, or to volunteer, visit www.benningtonareahabitat.com or call 802-367-1000.


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