Breaking ground

Home: it is a structure, a sense of security and a treasured space that seems so far away in the mind of Gretchen Odle.

She sits down, and can’t imagine anything different than her often 13-hour workdays. She daydreams of being able to work a normal nine-to-five and still afford rent, food and necessities for her young family.

She’s gotten used to sharing her tiny 750-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment with daughters Chantell, 14, and Sydney Boyle, 11. They’ve formed a routine of overlapping space and combining and condensing belongings so three people can share one bedroom.

She can’t imagine owning her own home. But still, Odle can picture it, and this week, that dream is beginning to solidify and come closer to being true.

Odle and her daughters — the most recent family to partner with the South Whidbey chapter of Habitat for Humanity — will soon have a 1,000 square foot, three bedroom, one bathroom house, complete with a small kitchen, a living room, and a porch where they can enjoy warm summer evenings.

This week, the local Habitat chapter began a “blitz build” to make that still unbelievable dream of Odle’s come true. On Monday morning, the sounds of home construction echoed through Freeland. And even before the foundation was set, the girls were breaking in the place as their own sanctuary of fun.

At a ground-breaking ceremony Saturday, the girls playfully tossed dirt around with shovels. They have now been given a chance to have rooms of their own, in a place they can call their own. It’s a place where they will have fun together from this week forward.

“I couldn’t be more thankful for this, even more than anyone will possibly know,” Odle said.

The construction will continue through Saturday. By the weekend, the foundation will laid, the exterior walls will be raised, the roof will be started and the windows and doors will be in place.

The South Whidbey Habitat crew on site Monday estimated July 1 as a possible move-in date for Gretchen and her girls, but they’re out to beat that.

Habitat is an international, nonprofit housing ministry based on Christian principles in which all are welcome to join and spread the word of affordable housing through the prayerful hammering and sawing on site.

Worldwide, Habitat for Humanity International has built over 100,000 homes since 1976, with a new Habitat home reportedly completed every 26 minutes.

All the South Whidbey Habitat chapters’ houses are modest structures of about 1,100 square feet, based on plans created at the international level of Habitat.

Potential homeowners are selected on the basis of need, ability to repay a no-profit no-interest mortgage, and willingness to partner with a Habitat affiliate chapter.

Habitat partner families invest not only money, but also “sweat equity” hours in their homes. Odle and her girls will spend 500 hours working side-by-side with Habitat volunteers on completing their home.

The South Whidbey chapter has completed six new homes since it formed in 1998, with all of the labor and materials for those houses coming from over 350 volunteers and 40 businesses. Chapter members say there is a dire need on the island for the work Habitat does.

“On South Whidbey the price of property and affordable housing is skyrocketing so much of the working poor can’t afford housing,” said Habitat volunteer Barbara Enberg.

Enberg said the South Whidbey chapter’s job of continuing the international organization’s mission of stamping out poverty housing is compounded in Island County.

“Currently, we are building one house per year and would like to increase that, but we are slowed by the rising cost of land on the island,” said Bruce Jones, past president of the South Whidbey chapter.

Even with one house emerging from the ground this week, the drive to raise funds and awareness is never over for the Habitat volunteers.

Boosting Island County Habitat’s efforts financially is its 1,000 Friends of Habitat program, in which donors pledge $50 for every house built.

The organization also raises money through a playhouse raffle. This year’s playhouse, a Hobbit-themed Habitat creation, will soon be completed. Tickets will be sold at festivals throughout the summer, with a raffle date set for later this year. Each year the raffle brings in somewhere around $5,000.

All of the fundraising and low-cost construction are done to ensure mortgage payments are low, typically around $275 per month for 20-year mortgages. The payments go back into a “Fund for Humanity” and are used to build more houses.

And even this week, with the work immediately before the Habitat volunteers, they need more people to help them fill the ranks and build a house. Volunteers are needed to make phone calls, whip up meals for the builders, and help construct Habitat for Humanity’s latest home.

Habitat volunteer Duffy Schoeler said he lives by Christian scripture, and for him, Habitat is his way to help live up to the word to “feed my lambs, cloth my sheep.” That’s why Schoeler, though one of the older volunteers on site, will be on site possibly more days than anyone else this year. Two years ago, Schoeler was the recipient of Island County Habitat’s Golden Hammer Award for the most volunteer hours.

“This is an opportunity to help the community in a personalized way,” said Bruce Jones, past president and volunteer with the South Whidbey Chapter for eight years.

A partnership, and gratitude visible from the partner families on the job site is what keeps volunteers coming back, according to Jones.

“We’re able to work hands-on with the new homeowner and feel like we’re giving them more than if we just gave them money — we’re becoming their partner in all of this and it’s our home as much as theirs,” he said.

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