(Editor’s note: Catholics looking for ways to put faith into practice during Lent and beyond can get inspiration from others around the diocese working to make the world a better place in which to live. Each week during Lent we’ll profile projects, people and activities striving to make a difference.)
By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
When Habitat for Humanity of Marion County, Inc., set a goal to increase the number of homes built for families in need, Catholic parishes in the county got to work.
“There was a need, we reached out and asked for help, and they sure answered,” said Beth Adamcik, the Habitat affiliate’s community outreach director and a member of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville.
Last year, the Habitat affiliate built three new homes with the help of volunteers. This year, they are on track to complete five new homes, plus two repair jobs. Groups from St. Anthony Parish, St. Mary Parish in Pella and Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher have all volunteered at least once since last year.
Adamcik said Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to provide safe, affordable shelter to families who demonstrate a level of need and a willingness to volunteer with the program. Habitat grants affordable, no-interest loans to the homeowners at mortgage rates they can afford. The homes are built with efficiency in mind in an effort to keep energy costs low.
Recent Habitat-assisted homeowners include a woman who has a good job as a welder but is in debt from medical bills following her late son’s battle with cancer.
“These are people who have had a bump in the road, often through no fault of their own, and need that little bit of a hand up,” Adamcik said.
On Feb. 14, volunteers from Sacred Heart-Melcher worked on a new home for Marilyn and Baileigh Harris, installing a laminate floor in the kitchen, baseboards in the basement, closet door jams and a pantry door. Marilyn is a single mother to Baileigh, an adult with autism. Currently, the women own a lot and a trailer in rural Knoxville. Adamcik said the property’s location is ideal for Baileigh’s therapeutic needs, but the trailer is a safety hazard.
“They have to put torpedo heaters under the trailer to keep the pipes from freezing. They had to crawl underneath the trailer in negative temperatures to refill fuel. Marilyn was ill (recently) and wasn’t able to maintain the pipes — the pipes froze, resulting in two inches of ice inside the trailer. The windows flap open because of the wind.
“We want to get them out of the house and into safe, affordable housing as soon as possible.”
Martha Reed, Sacred Heart-Melcher’s secretary, said, “These volunteers have a really good time and are glad that they can help a family in need.”
St. Anthony-Knoxville members and the Knights of Columbus Council have also worked on the Harris home, among others in the past year. Laura Hollinrake, who chairs the parish’s social action committee and is director of religious education, has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for more than 20 years.
She and her husband lived in Florida before moving to Iowa in 1997; their first build was in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. “I like the organization because it helps people help themselves and brings together people in the community to help out.”
She also enjoys the opportunity to volunteer alongside the future homeowners. “Sometimes in charitable work, you don’t see the people that are benefitting.”
Last summer, volunteers from St. Mary-Pella worked on a home in their community for Paula Oellerich and her two children. Oellerich considered the home a “nice, fresh start” for her family. “Having all these people go out of their way … to come and help us build our home meant a lot.”
Adamcik said Catholics who are unable to do physical labor have helped in other ways, such as giving a donation or bringing lunch to crews.
“Without all the parishioners from various churches sharing, time, talent and treasures, we couldn’t help the families that desperately need decent housing,” Adamcik said.