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May 2023
In the News

Building community: 150 volunteers take part in Habitat for Humanity project at Newark church

by Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County

The parking lot at Newark United Methodist Church was a flurry of activity Saturday as 150 volunteers helped assemble walls for Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s really cool to see how houses are made,” said Heather Callahan, a University of Delaware graduate student who spent the morning hammering nails alongside her grandmother, Brenda Cassel. “You don’t know what goes into it when you just live in one.”

Cassel agreed.

“It’s definitely a learning experience. I said to Heather, now we can go build her a house,” she joked.

The volunteers worked in teams to build 44 interior walls that will be used in four houses that are under construction in Wilmington.

For UD sophomore Rachel Gaebel and her friends Elizabeth Mitchell, Maya Grant, Cynthia Slemmer and Ella Swope, the event was a chance to try something new and help others in need.

“As a history major, we don’t get to do hands-on work like this,” she said.

Experienced Habitat for Humanity volunteers were on hand to guide each group through the process of framing a wall.

“Construction isn’t all that challenging,” said Dan DiGuglielmo, who has been helping Habitat for Humanity build houses since 2016. “It’s all in the training.”

Kevin Smith, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County, said events like the one at Newark UMC help introduce more people to the organization’s work and provide volunteer opportunities for people who aren’t able to commit to a lengthier volunteer shift at a home building site.

“This is an introduction to that experience to see, oh yeah, I can do this, I can come out and put my labor in,” said Smith, who is also a pastor at the church. “And it’s a tangible way for people to feel like they’ve made a difference. They see the fruits of their labor within an hour.”

Habitat for Humanity builds approximately 12 homes a year in New Castle County and sells them for their appraised value. Buyers receive a zero-interest mortgage from the organization, saving them upward of $200,000 over the life of the loan and opening up homeownership to people who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage or be able to afford a down payment.

Most of the houses the organization builds are in Wilmington, and Smith noted that he would like to do a build in Newark but hasn’t been able to find the land. Habitat for Humanity is working on a new initiative to encourage local churches that own large properties to consider allowing the organization to build a home on part of the land.

Affordable housing is a top priority of an interfaith clergy group in Newark, said Smith, who noted that the thousands of UD students here inflate the market and make it difficult for families to afford to live in Newark. The group is encouraging city officials to pass an inclusionary zoning law, which would allow developers to build more units if some are designated as affordable.

“We need all kinds of affordable housing at every level, whether that’s for those experiencing homelessness or those who maybe make $100,000 a year,” he said.

Bruce Yost, who helped organize Saturday’s event for Newark UMC, said the church was trying to find a way for members to be more involved in the community rather than just raising money or writing checks.

“How can this church become more relational versus transactional?” Yost said.

The church committed $25,000 for lumber and other supplies and opened the volunteer opportunity to everyone in the community. The volunteers were a mix of church members, UD students, people from other local churches and other folks from the community.

At the end, the volunteers all autographed the wall frame that they worked on.

“You become part of it, and maybe by signing it, you make a little bit more connection with it,” Yost said.

He added that he hopes the project inspires other churches and organizations to embark on a similar effort.

“It doesn’t stop here,” he said. “Our vision is this is really a seed for the community and for organizations. We have a blueprint for this kind of engagement across New Castle County or wherever it might fall.”

[read the full Newark Post article here]


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