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After 20 years of serving the Bedford County community by providing adequate housing for those in need, the local Habit for Humanity and Christmas in Action (CIA) organizations have merged to better meet the housing needs of the area.
According to Jim VanWinkle, interim president of Habitat, and Gardner Simpkins, former president of CIA, the new entity will combine the strengths of the two organizations with each complementing the other.
“For years, the two groups have served two different segments of the population while having the same goal,” he said.” We felt that there was duplication in many of our efforts. The synergies of the combination will allow us to better focus our attention on our mission. For example, both organizations were responsible for their own fund raising, their own public relations, their own application process, etc. By combining the groups, we can utilize the talents of our volunteers in the areas for which they are best suited.”
The group is currently in the process of identifying its new structure and finding the right people to fill the key spots in that structure. “We need people with skills in the following areas: project management, materials management, purchasing, financial and strategic planning, accounting, and the like. Face it; we are a small business with the needs of any successful small business” said Simpkins.
Part of the impetus for the merger is the move on the Habitat national level to take on the task of critical home repair. The organization has recognized this is an area of need not being met in many communities and is encouraging the local affiliates to fill this need. The Bedford community was already ahead of the game with the Christmas in Action group fulfilling this objective.
While the objective of both groups is to provide adequate housing for those in need, they serve two different constituencies. Habitat is focused on families that are living in less than ideal circumstances, such as renting in substandard housing or in multiple family situations.
Christmas in Action is focused on current home owners who, because of their circumstances, cannot afford to make needed repairs on their house: seniors living solely on Social Security; veterans living on disability payments; and others confined to a fixed income.
Habitat has constructed 14 new homes since its inception here while Christmas in Action has made improvements to 270 houses in the community. Under the new structure, CIA becomes the Critical Home Repair division of Habitat.
VanWinkle stated, “Habitat for Humanity is a Christian housing ministry, using volunteer labor and financed through private donations and grants. Our mission has been to build houses with families and sell the houses at no profit with no-interest mortgages to those who could not afford traditional commercial financing. The families must commit to substantial hours of ‘sweat equity’ per adult which includes a home ownership course.
“Monthly mortgage payments, including taxes and insurance, run in the range of $400. These monthly payments, plus all other long term debts, must be less than 40 percent of the monthly household income. Habitat uses the mortgage payments to buy materials to build more houses for qualified families. We are simply adding to our mission to include home repairs for those in need.”
Another way to look at it is that while the organization builds and repairs houses, the most important thing it does is to provide a life changing event to families by providing the stability, hope and sense of permanence that comes with the satisfaction of owning their own home.
The organization is presently preparing for the New Year.
First, it needs volunteers, along with those mentioned, who have skills in the building trades or who are novices who simply know how to wield a hammer or a paint brush. The old adage “many hands make for light work” is never truer then when it comes to Habitat. Regardless of the skill level a person brings to the project, their assistance is invaluable.
Second, it wants applications for assistance both in new homes and home repairs. The group is reaching out to church and community groups, the Department of Social Services and the Veterans administration to help identify potential candidates. “Who better in our community to help identify people in need than their neighbors and the organizations established to help them?” they noted.
Third, it needs donations. Habitat is a pay as you go organization: it carries no debt. Nothing can happen in either arena without financial support.
“Many folks would like to help in this cause, but they don’t feel they have the time or the skills to help. In that case, donations to the cause can allow them to participate. While the new housing area depends on mortgages to finance new projects, the repair side lives on donations to complete each project” stated VanWinkle.
This year’s goals include building one new house and repairing 12. The target for repairs include doing six on the last Saturday in April as has been the Christmas in Action tradition and doing six others during the course of the year. The average cost of a repair is around $5,000, thus the group is trying to raise $60,000 to meet this year’s needs. All donations are tax deductible.
In reviewing the organization’s past accomplishments, the new board noted that all of the Habitat homes have been built in or around the city of Bedford. As a result, the group has added the goal to broaden its scope to include other areas of the county, but to do so requires them to have property on which to build.
If someone wanted to donate land to the project, and the land meets the organization’s needs, such a donation would be tax deductible at fair market value.
For more information on how you can help or how you can receive help, call 540-587-0280. Donations may be mailed to Habitat for Humanity, P.O. Box 171, Bedford, VA 24523 with checks made out to Habitat for Humanity – Critical Home Repair.