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Habitat for Humanity Chapters Recognize Need, Encourage Volunteerism

Contributed by: Julianne Loney

Twelve years ago, Debbie Anderson sat around her kitchen table and started to think about how to change the Habitat for Humanity chapter of Oswego.

Habitat for Humanity, a worldwide non-profit organization was founded in 1976 outside of Americus, Georgia, according to habitat.org.

Millard and Linda Fuller, the eventual creators of the company, coined the term “partnership housing,” determined to provide affordable and decent homes for those in need.

Like the Fuller family, Anderson, president of the Habitat for Humanity chapter of Oswego, was innovative in her efforts to impact her surrounding community.

She said she came up with a ‘Dancing with the Stars’ fundraiser event and within first year it was an instant hit in the town.

“The first year we had the mayor, the police chief, the fire chief and many dignitaries like that, CEOs at the FitzPatrick power plant,” she said. “That’s how it started and since then that just kept going!”

On March 24, at the ‘Dancing with the Stars’ event, nearly 600 people met at The American Foundry of Oswego to dance the night away.

Anderson said the goal of this fundraiser is to raise as many funds as possible, since this is the only fundraiser per year.

The money from this event is then used for construction of homes for people who qualify for Habitat housing in Oswego and surrounding communities.

To qualify for Habitat to begin construction or a complete refurbishment of a home, there must be a significant need, whether that be financially or if the condition of the house is unlivable.

This house however, is not a “gift” from Habitat volunteers.

Homeowners looking to qualify must perform “sweat equity hours, where individuals looking to qualify have to work on the construction of other homes or volunteer in other Habitat-provided opportunities.

Then, when sweat equity hours are calculated, a homeowner can work with volunteers on the first steps to build their affordable and decent home, according to the Habitat website.

Oswego State became an official affiliate with Habitat for Humanity in 2003, according to the school’s website

Each year, the school partners with Habitat chapters throughout the country, participating on Alternative Spring Break trips.

This year, a team of 11 Oswego students and one faculty member traveled to Florence, Alabama, to work alongside the men and women who are considered the backbone the Shoals Habitat for Humanity.

Florence, Alabama, home to about 40,000 residents, has benefited from this organization since the early 1990s.

The Shoals Habitat has lent hundreds of hands in the construction of 77 houses in Lauderdale County, according to construction coordinator Sam Mansell.

As each Habitat chapter is different from the next, Oswego State is the only collegiate group to volunteer in the Florence community each year.

A team of 15 “regular” volunteers is made up of engineers, architects, painters and other skill sets necessary for building a house.

According to Mansell, the age range for his “regulars” is about 70 years old.
At 75 years old, Mansell said during this Alternative Break Trip, Oswego students helped him build his 37th house with this organization.

As a construction coordinator, he said it is important to recognize the hope that this foundation gives to Florence, Alabama.

“We have a lot of people in this area that are in need, and it is our job to help them out,” he said. “I do this for the people I deal with and love to deal with.”

Joe Massenburg, a long-time volunteer for Habitat in Florence, has worked along fellow electricians who would become some of his best friends.

At 80 years old, during the Alternative Break Trip, students were able to see Massenburg at work on his 63rd house with Habitat.

In 1995, his church sponsored the fifth house that was donated to Habitat and since then has fallen in love with the organization.

“It says a lot about this community that college students want to spend their breaks here,” Massenburg said. “The more [college students] the better.”

In 41 years, the Habitat for Humanity organization has helped provide affordable and decent homes to more than 9.8 million people, in 70 countries and nearly 1,400 U.S. communities, according to the Habitat website.