Ceremony for New Low-Income Homes Gets Big Turnout

June 30th, 2012 by Desiree Parker

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All smiles (from l. to r.) are Maroua Lahrach, 15; Leena Lahrach, 6; Rkia Sekkali; Mohammed Lahrach; Adam Lahrach, 3; Robbie Garnett and Wade Garnett of Garnett Construction after a new home ribbon-cuttting ceremony Friday. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity.

It’s not often that a home builder gets so choked up with feelings about a project that he has to stop speaking for a minute – but that’s exactly what happened to Wade Garnett of Garnett Construction Friday morning.

“This is the best house I’ve ever built,” Garnett said to a crowd as he thanked the contractors and others who had helped him.

His voice wavered. “I didn’t think I’d get this emotional.”

Garnett joined close to a hundred people Friday morning outside in the sweltering heat to celebrate five families who are new homeowners in James City County, and to celebrate the builders, contractors, volunteers, government officials and nonprofits who all pitched in make the dream of homeownership a reality for these citizens.

Garnett built a home for Mohammed Larach and Rkia Sekkali and their three young children during this year’s Habitat for Humanity Home Builder’s Blitz. The Blitz is part of a national program that uses volunteer builders who pledge to build a home in the month of June for a qualified family. Locally, five builders took on five home projects in the Ironbound Road redevelopment area (read a story about one of the new homeowners in a previous story).

At Friday’s dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the now-completed homes, Habitat for Humanity’s Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg chapter President Alexis Swann told the crowd that this year’s local Blitz was the only one in all of Virginia and it was the fourth largest in the country.

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Matt McQuillen of Tidewater Properties; Catherine Littlejohn; Kiera Littlejohn, 8; Janiya Littlejohn, 15; David Hancock, President-elect Habitat Board; Robert Middaugh, County Administrator and John McGlennon, Board of Supervisors. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity.

“I am proud to be celebrating with our builders and affiliates,” she said. “It is truly a momentous occasion – for the first time, we’ve built five houses in 30 days.”

James City County Administrator Robert Middaugh said that since the county and Habitat started working together in the late 1990s, Habitat has helped to build 37 homes (which includes the five new ones) locally.

This represents about 2,000 hours of volunteer work per home. Based on a 40-hour work week, that 74,000 hours would equal roughly 30 years’ worth of total volunteer time, he pointed out.

Vaughn Poller, the county’s director of housing and community development, said that before the land began to be developed in 2000, “this area was considered a blight. But, it is much different today,” he said.

“Having homes here really achieves a dream to make this a neighborhood.”

Builder Charles Ross of Charles Ross Homes, who built a home for Tameka Dandridge and her young twins, told the audience that “this is not a handout. It’s a leg up … these are the kind of people we want in our community.”

Habitat looks for applicants for the program who have steady employment and good credit who are also low-income, and offers them interest-free loans for the newly built homes. These mortgages often cost less than what owners were paying in rent.

The crowd followed the families and their builders to each home, where they engaged in a call-and-response ribbon-cutting ritual in which the families promise to maintain the home and make it “a beacon of peace to all who pass by and enter in.”

The builders presented the homeowners with a few gifts, including a symbolic key to the house, and the Food Bank of the Virginia Peninsula let owners know that it and some of its church and nonprofit affiliates were going to fill the pantries of each home with food.

After each ribbon was cut, everyone in the crowd called out, “Welcome home!” and cheered before moving to the next home.

The mood was celebratory, despite the temperature.

After Garnett spoke, Lahrach summed up all the speeches and thank-yous each family had given throughout the morning: “My dream has finally come true in having this beautiful home.”

 

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