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The volunteers who make up the local Habitat for Humanity's legendary "Thursday Morning Work Crew" aren't pausing to reflect upon the historical significance of the new home they're building.
The floor joists have to go in at 1810 Edwards Ave NE. They'll leave it to others to lead the celebrations over the 500th house being built by the East Central Ohio affiliate.
A couple with five children is purchasing the four-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot home.
Executive Director Beth Lechner attributes the 30-year-old chapter's success to adherence to its mission of providing "safe, decent and affordable" housing for families who otherwise could not afford to own a home.
"I think it's because we have truly stuck with the core values and principles," she said.
"It's a true 'theology of the hammer' ... as big as we've gotten, the more houses we do each year, even expanding our programs beyond new construction, rehabbing houses and helping families with critical home repair of existing homes, it all still goes back to those core principles, those biblically based principles."
Habitat offers homes for sale at no-interest mortgages to families who meet income guidelines. Selected families contribute sweat equity. Their mortgage payments are used to invest in new projects.
Largest in Ohio
Founded in 1988, the East Central Ohio Habitat for Humanity is the largest affiliate in the state, encompassing Stark, Carroll, Tuscarawas, Jefferson and Harrison counties. It has provided new and rehabilitated homes for more than 2,200 people, including more than 1,800 children.
Lechner said the local affiliate remains committed to "tithing," or donating 10 percent of its donations, which has helped build homes in Ghana, El Salvador, Lesotho, Poland and Bangladesh.
"It has translated into thousands of homes overseas," she said. "Even in tough times, there has never been a discussion. I believe God has blessed us because we've continued to honor that commitment."
Lechner recalled being on the job only a week when Habitat completed its 200th home 14 years ago in the same 14th Street SE neighborhood where the first houses were built.
"Millard Fuller (the late Habitat co-founder) came, and he was so inspirational, you wanted to jump out of your seat and go build houses," she said.
In 2014, the local affiliate purchased a 124,000-square-foot facility at 1400 Raff Road SW, enabling it to put its offices, Habitat ReStore retail business and warehouse under one roof.
The East Central Ohio affiliate also has expanded its homeowner training programs and added a component to rehabilitate existing homes, which now comprise about half of its new projects, Lechner said.
Only 13 percent of applicants are accepted into the program, Lechner said. Families get turned down, she said, not because of their credit scores but because their debt-to-income ratio is too high or they have a judgment lien.
"Student loans are killing people," she said. "We don't want to set anybody up for failure."
But being turned down often spurs people to tackle their debt, Lechner said.
"At least 30 percent of our families were families who applied and had been denied, and got that cleaned up," she said. "Sometimes, it's two or three years. But knowing that the dream of homeownership is out there. ... It's amazing how people will work hard to get that done because they know the end game is worth it."
Powered by volunteers
Lechner is proud that the East Ohio affiliate has the continued support of the community and longtime volunteers such as Kent Valin, who has been contributing since 2001.
"I knew when I retired I wanted to become more involved," he said. "I joined the Thursday Morning Crew, and the rest is history."
Valin said he benefits more than he imagined.
"I really see God's hand in this," he said. "We've got all different denominations working together, and even some people of different faiths. I see it as the opposite of the Tower of Babel. We're using our hands and hammers in his name."
Katie Newlon, a Timken Co. retiree, has been on the Thursday Morning Work Crew for eight of her 14 years of helping. Newlon also volunteers with a Habitat affiliate at her winter home in Florida.
"I get a lot of fulfillment coming out here," she said. "I really enjoy it. I've learned some new skills."
The only woman on the crew this day, Newlon knows her way around a circular saw.
"I've had some patient mentors," she said with a laugh. "These guys I work with are great because they want to be here. That makes such a difference."
Lechner said Habitat is partnering with the city of Canton and the Canton Rotary Club to develop a community gathering spot in the area that will offer landscaping and seating.
Last year, Habitat announced a $3.5 million investment in the neighborhood that encompasses the new home on Edwards Avenue. Lechner said all but $250,000 in pledges has been secured.
Part of the initiative includes zero-interest loans up to $5,000 to homeowners in the designated area.
"It's still working," Lechner said of the neighborhood. "People care about the neighborhood, and they love Canton. Many of the homeowners are elderly people. They've worked hard."
On Saturday, Habitat will conduct a Wall Raising Ceremony at the building site from 11 a.m. to noon. The home will be completed by fall.
For more information, call 330-915-5888 or visit www.HabitatECO.org.