Habitat for Humanity builds first South Whidbey house

"Photo: Demetri Vasiliades, left, and Otis Lee put some finishing touches on closet doors at the new Habitat for Humanity house in Freeland, the first ever on South Whidbey. Joan Soltys/staff photoCome to the celebrationThe South Whidbey Chapter of Habitat for Humanity of Island County is inviting the public to celebrate the completion of the first Habitat for Humanity house on South Whidbey, Sunday, Dec. 5, 4 p.m., at 5573 Vesel Court, Freeland. The festivities will include music, a blessing and dedication of the house by community religious leaders. A reception with cake and refreshments will be held at Trinity Lutheran Fellowship Hall following the ceremony. Because parking at the site is limited, guests are asked to arrive early at Trinity for directions, parking and carpools. All are welcome.On June 12 of this year, the first shovelful of dirt -- along with speeches, blessings and words of wisdom -- marked the start of construction on a small house in Vesel Court in Freeland. The ceremonial groundbreaking was for the first Habitat for Humanity house on South Whidbey.Donna Vasiliades wielded the shovel that broke first ground, and Karl Olsen added his gift of music to the celebration. The mood was optimistic and the day full of promise.Tomorrow, six months later, the mood will likely be jubilant. Those gathered at a triumphant celebration will be showing off the work of more than 300 volunteers who spent thousands of hours, dollars and units of energy in the ambitious community effort.And perhaps the most exuberant participants will be Doris Brinkerhoff and her son Andy, the new homeowners. “Andy and I are extremely excited. We can hardly wait to move in to our beautiful new home,” Brinkerhoff said. “We are truly thankful for all the hard work of the volunteers who gave so much of their time and talents in building it. This will be the best Christmas we’ve ever had!For Donna and Demetri Vasiliades, it will be the realization of an idea born five years ago, when they became inspired by working with the Habitat for Humanity Yakima Valley Partners.“It was a fabulous experience. Not one person came back who didn’t find it incredible,” Donna Vasiliades said. When she learned that a Habitat affiliate was being formed in Oak Harbor, she attended their meetings. And when a private party donated a Southend lot to Habitat, she said she knew “there had to be something down here.” Patterned after those in the Yakima Valley, a South Whidbey chapter of the Oak Harbor affiliate was formed. Now, she said, it needed the people to make it work.“I sent a letter to churches and service organizations, had a meeting at Trinity Lutheran, and just threw it open,” Vasiliades said. “It was astounding. People showed up like I could not believe!” After that first meeting in October, 1998, the chapter “grew and grew and grew,” Vasiliades said. The board positions were filled immediately. Volunteers got involved with donations of time and money.“The outpouring of caring overwhelmed me,” she said.Only eight months later, the chapter was ready to begin building the first Habitat house on South Whidbey.The progress was “miraculous,” Vasiliades said. “Whenever we needed something done, someone with the expertise was there. At one point we had 20 gallons of wonderful quality paint -- more than we could use -- but no primer. We thought we’d have to break down and buy it. Two hours later, someone from Hearts and Hammers called and asked if we could use any of the primer they had left over.”On another day, Vasiliades recalled, a fellow stopped by and said, “You could use some gutters. I’ll donate them.” Electricians, plumbers, excavators, roofers followed the same pattern. “It’s a wonderful connection we have here on the Southend,” she said. “I don’t want to list names, because I would hate to leave anyone out -- so many people helped.”The summer was active with all-faith builds from local churches, a women’s week, service clubs, and individuals helping to complete the Brinkerhoff home. More than 30 South Whidbey businesses contributed construction materials and labor; national manufacturers donated products and materials, such as a Whirlpool refrigerator and stove. Another private party donated money to buy a dishwasher and washer and dryer. The work crews were treated to lunches (“absolutely gourmet,” Vasiliades said), coffee, snacks. Various fund raisers were carried out in the community. A major one was the raffle of a two-story children’s “lighthouse” playhouse, designed and built by Pella Windows and Doors and made of materials supplied by Lumbermen’s in Clinton and Hanson’s Building Supply in Bayview. South Whidbey service organizations -- including the Soroptimists, Rotary and Kiwanis -- helped sell tickets at summer festivals.“All the enthusiasm was very contagious,” Vasiliades said. “You could hardly help being excited.”For the past few days volunteers have been working long hours to finish the last of the house-building tasks. And plans have been made for the celebration on Sunday.“There will be luminaries, and candlelighting. A bell choir will play and we’ll ask everyone to sing carols with us,” Vasiliades said. Afterward, the community will be welcomed back to Trinity for a reception with cake and cookies.Vasiliades can only be called exuberant as she describes what the community has accomplished here. “It was a great effort,” she said. “It’s kind of the heart of what Habitat for Humanity is about: not just about building homes, but also about building hope, changing lives and bring together people of different religions, politics and economic backgrounds,” she said. “Everybody I talk to seems to have been involved in one way or another,” she said. “And I’ve gotten to know the best people!”"

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