Leesburg High School – Dedication
South Lake High School – Dedication
The Villages Charter School – Buffalo Builders: Episode 4
While raising her five children, one of whom is developmentally disabled, single-mother Joyce Tohill struggled to make ends meet.
Housing was always a problem and the dream of a home for her family seemed out of reach. Tohill had learned to be a medical transcriptionist so she could work from home and care for her disabled daughter.
Tohill had always taken an interest in Habitat for Humanity and volunteered for the organization. When The Villagers Habitat For Humanity of Lake-Sumter Club named her as the recipient of a new three-bedroom home to be built by club members, she was overwhelmed.
As she received the keys to the house on Tuesday morning from Villager Sandy Read, Tohill began to cry. She told the Villagers who worked on the home that she was “so grateful for making her dream come true.”
Last November, Tohill, her daughters and her grandchildren were present when Habitat for Humanity held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the beginning of construction.
“At that time it seemed to be a far-off dream,” Tohill said.
But as construction continued, her excitement grew as did her affection for the Villagers who worked hard to finish the house.
LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Some Lake County High Schools offer a program to provide experiential learning and introduce students to the field of construction.
What You Need To Know
- Program in Lake County teaches high school students about constructions
- Students help build homes and learn life skills
- The program is in partnership with Habitat for Humanity
This class teaches students the basics of building, while also picking up life skills.
It’s graduation season, and some students are spending it helping create a home for a Lake County couple.
“It’s happy, it’s a feeling of joy because you get to give people the keys for them to start their life,” said Aaron Dudhnath, a senior at South Lake High School.
Twelve South Lake High School students, including senior Dudhnath, built this home as part of the Youth Construction Academy program.
“Day by day, kind of see the house come from the bottom and up is a very great thing to see happen. Especially us, we’re young and to get in there and get that experience is great,” Dudhnath said.
Their instructor believes the partnership with Habitat for Humanity will provide the students with a strong foundation.
“Whether you want to be in construction or not, all these are valuable skills you’re going to learn. Instead of maybe coming out and paying someone to fix something simple, you’re able to take care of it yourself,” said Jared Fullerton, the Construction Academy Teacher at South Lake High School.
Being at the work site came with many benefits and experiences.
“Hanging a door, putting in cabinets, installing flooring, that’s not stuff we can really do in the classroom,” Fullerton said.
Habitat for Humanity and South Lake High School’s Youth Construction Academy Is Building Homes And Hope
At the start of the 2020 fall semester, the Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter in partnership with a hand-selected group of students from South Lake High School broke ground and began construction of a new home. Through all kinds of weather and a pandemic, the group completed the home in less than a year.
Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter started the Youth Construction Academy, partnering with high school construction students. The vocational program, began approximately 3 years ago to introduce students to the field of construction. Students graduate the program with access and opportunity for internships and employment.
On Friday, May 7, a dedication ceremony was held at the newly constructed home in Mascotte. Construction Program Head Jarod Fullerton and his Groveland High School construction students Ernesto Lea, Aaron Dudhnath, Samuel Smrekan, Jonathon Cherry, Christopher Sherman, Nakoma Payne, Georgia Turner, Hayley Kintner, Dayton Driggers, Alexander Valentine, Jacob Willis, Elizabeth Singh, Jacob Myrland, were recognized and asked to present the keys to the house to new homeowners Mark and Mindy Owen.
Habitat has plans to build a total of four homes in that one block on Thomas Street in Mascotte, one house a year, in cooperation with the advanced construction students of South Lake High.
There has been a construction program at South Lake for well over 20 years. The program was revitalized through a workforce grant. Program head Jared Fullerton is himself a graduate of South Lake, where he was a construction student. Fullerton says he was 18 when he took part in building his first home. After graduating from South Lake in 2001 and spending two years studying at Lake-Sumter State College, he went on to earn a degree in Building Construction from the University of Florida. He worked several years in the industry and now has returned to South Lake High School, home of the Eagles, to reenergize the construction program for a new generation of students.
Most families aim to build success and raise their standard of living so their children can have better lives. But, this isn’t feasible for everyone without help. Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and the Construction Management Academy of The Villages High School work together to give some of these families a boost when it comes to their homes, a measure of success for many families. Habitat and the academy recently completed a yearlong project to build a home for the Brooks family and handed over the keys to their new home Wednesday.
To Amanda Brooks, a working, single parent whose family received the house, the students’ drive and efforts were impressive and something for which she always will be grateful.
“The students are amazing,” she said. “I know they don’t realize it but they have completely changed my life.”
After years of trying to obtain a home, Brooks and her daughter, Emilee, received the keys to their new home with tears of joy. Brooks applied to the program at The Villages Charter School and, through a selection process, was chosen out of the top five applicants.
“I remember exactly where I was when I received the call from Habitat,” Brooks said. “I was at work, and I took the call and I wanted to jump up and down and cry in excitement.”
She said she then contacted everyone that knew she had applied.
“My family is so proud of the woman, mother, daughter I’ve become,” she said. “They can’t wait to come visit my new home.”
Brooks has spent the year keeping herself steady at work and volunteering over 200 hours of “sweat equity” for Habitat for Humanity.
The construction students even planned a surprise for Emilee: a bright pink playhouse for her to enjoy in her new backyard. Art students lent their artistic abilities to add characters from Disney movies to the decor. Emilee smiled as she ducked through the door labeled “Emilee’s Playhouse.”
For the Smith Family, Habitat for Humanity has given them more than just a home
“Habitat for Humanity symbolizes hope for people to keep pushing in life,” said Otto Smith.
Jessica Smith and her 13 year-old-son, Otto, spend their time with each other, optimistic about a place that they can call home. Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter has made that possible for them.
Jessica Smith works as an assistant at an oral surgery clinic, and Otto is in the 8th grade. Their family has lived in the area for 34 years. The surrounding neighborhood is a special place for Otto and Jessica, as their new home will be very close to Jessica’s work and Otto’s school, and their church is only a short distance away. The Smiths plan to host family game nights, church gatherings, and holiday get togethers once the home is complete. “There will be many memories made there. We can’t wait for our monthly game nights.” Jessica said.
The Smiths are looking forward to simple memories from family meals to individual spaces in their new home. “I am so excited to have a kitchen to call our own to cook and eat meals together” Jessica Smith, future homeowner said. “Otto and I are very excited to have our own rooms.”
Habitat for Humanity makes it possible for families to live in a beautiful home on an affordable mortgage. No more than 30 percent of a person’s income is spent on housing with Habitat for Humanity. This allows families like the Smiths to use that money for other expenses such as groceries or education. “We have moved about 14 or 15 times, but I am really excited to have a place that we can finally call home,” said Jessica.
Their new home is being built through the Youth Construction Academy program where high school students gain hands-on experience during their school day building homes, while also getting school credit. The Smith family’s journey with Habitat for Humanity has been gratifying and exciting. Family and friends also come to help with the construction of the home. “They have done a lot for us. We started out at rock bottom,” said Otto. “Every day it seems like there is a new spark of hope for us. It brings us so much joy to see the community coming together to build this home.”
Their home is well underway with the frame almost complete. The Smiths have expressed great thanks and enthusiasm for this project, and they are both ready for the day when they finally have a place to call home.
By Volunteer Writer: Katrina Machetta
Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter offers a ‘hand-up’ approach to families in the community, encouraging ownership of the home building and buying process from the beginning. Sweat Equity is an example of that.
The “Sweat Equity” program is designed to provide future homeowners the opportunity to participate in the investment of homes, either their own or someone else’s, and their community. Sweat equity is not a financial payment but rather an opportunity to work alongside volunteers who give their time to bring to life the dream of homeownership. Sweat equity can take on many forms; from construction or home preservation and repair, to working in Habitat’s ReStores, and participating in special events. In addition, homeowner education classes provide instruction on topics like mortgage and insurance that count towards the required 200 hours of sweat equity for future homeowners. This cooperative approach, whereby all of us are working together, ensures homeowners can achieve the strength, stability, and independence they need to build a better future for themselves and their families.
When we asked future homeowners about the sweat equity program, “It’s a Blessing,” was heard over and over. A blessing not just because they were receiving support, but because they found opportunities to pay it forward through Habitat’s structured outreach programs in which they can participate. And that’s one of many things they liked, the varied opportunities that were provided. Some examples that might be unexpected included events like Jingle Build-Off, where Habitat homeowners joined sponsors in building playhouses for children in the community.
The varied opportunities address a potential roadblock. Families partnered with Habitat Lake-Sumter have work, school, and family obligations. They need to complete their 200 hours of sweat equity within a very demanding schedule. Because many sweat equity opportunities can be accommodated to fit around busy schedules, it becomes easier for them to participate.
Four future Habitat families met when they were volunteering on a home repair project for the Rosas family. Habitat Lake-Sumter not only builds new homes but provides preservation and repair services to keep homes safe.
And our partner families give high marks for the sweat equity program. All agreed it provides a sense of commitment.
It instills a sense of appreciation, builds confidence and a sense of community. Working on projects alongside volunteers builds respect for one another and knowledge that Habitat homeowners carry with them into the future. Working side by side, there is a realization that despite different backgrounds and experiences, everyone has come together for the common good.
Habitat Lake-Sumter partners with families to walk side by side as they achieve the dream of owning a home and as our future homeowners have said over and over “It’s A Blessing!”
Kevin Voght, volunteer writer
Felisha Wimes’ story began in 2012 when she married her husband Jerry. The Wimes’ family includes four children, two adults and one puppy – and space was soon tight with a family of six. Their three sons shared one room, while their dining room became their daughter’s bedroom.
“Jerry and I are very hard workers, but owning a house seems so far away when you are paying such high rent and taking care of a family of six,” Felisha said. Felisha works for the Lake County School system, and Jerry works in healthcare.
The Wimes family lives in Mount Dora, where Jerry’s family is from. They have been in a rental home for about three years, but have always wanted to own their own home.
“The house we are in now is just too small with my children getting older and bigger,” Felisha said, but they were hesitant to leave Mount Dora. “Any time we make any major moves we always ask the kids their thoughts, and they all said that if we could buy a home they would love to be in the Mount Dora area since they have been raised here.”
Felisha found out about Habitat for Humanity from her sister-in-law, who forwarded her an email she’d received about the organization and gave Felisha the information to apply. “This all happened by fate,” Felisha said. “At first I was very hesitant, but decided why not I could really use a miracle and here we are now on our way to becoming homeowners. From the very first call to the very first email, this experience has been wonderful and such a blessing.”
Felisha and her family are excited and feel blessed to become homeowners. Their daughter and eldest son are looking forward to having their own rooms, Jerry can’t wait to have a garage, and the family is planning to have family over for the first time with the extra space for cookouts.
“This journey seems so unreal, not only for myself and my husband, but for my children as well. They have all said how excited they are, but I don’t think it has hit yet that this will be our home forever,” Felisha said. “I am ready to show my kids how the community comes together as one to make things happen.” The one thing Felisha is looking forward to the most is getting a dining room table that can fit her family of six so they can eat together as a family every night.
“We are so excited and thankful to be a part of Habitat for Humanity. We can’t wait to make many memories that will last a lifetime as a family in our new home!”
By- Becky Eaton, Volunteer Writer
Joyce Tohill broke into tears as she walked up to the site where her new home was to be built.
This would be the first home the Tavares resident has owned, and it’s all thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Lake Sumter The Villages Club.
On Friday, club members gathered with Tohill’s family, and Habitat for Humanity staff at the location in Fruitland Park, where the home is going to be built, to celebrate breaking ground. When Tohill arrived, she was immediately overwhelmed by the support of everyone present.
“I’ve assisted with The Women’s Build for Habitat of Humanity,” she said. “But it’s different when you are the one receiving the home.”
After a ribbon-cutting, members celebrated with cake, muffins, juice and coffee and began discussing plans for the build.
“This is the first new build for the club,” said Sally Read, co-president for Habitat for Humanity The Villages Club.
“We are really excited and we will be doing all the decorating for the house as well. The Dream Team consists of several of the guys, and they will act as managers throughout the build so we thought it was the least us ladies in the club could do,” said Read, of the Village of Tall Trees.
Kevin Tucker, president of Habitat for Humanity The Villages Club, said everything was on track.
“The concrete will be poured Monday, and we can get started on the build by Wednesday or the following Monday,” he said. “We are so thankful we are able to provide a home for this family.”
Danielle Stroud, senior director of programs and partnership for Habitat for Humanity, said she was thankful to work with each family that benefits from the group.
“Four out of 10 families make under $30,000 a year,” she said. “So when these volunteers are out swinging hammers, they are the voices making a difference for our local families. I am so thankful Joyce and her family will be blessed and have a home to call their own, because they deserve it.”
The Villages Habitat for Humanity Club has dedicated its energy to construct its first home to help a single mother and her children in their time of need.
Joyce Tohill coped with homelessness and substandard housing while raising her five children. Three of her children are now adults out on their own.
Tohill’s adult daughter, Grace Ware, explained how difficult it was to find adequate housing. Her mother also had the additional worry of caring for a disabled daughter who requires that Tohill be present at all times. In order to provide for her family she became a medical transcription specialist which enabled her to work at home. The pandemic affected her income and was making it difficult to make rent payments. When she was selected to receive the first home to be constructed by The Villages Habitat Club she said it was “a miracle” and “this home is securing a future for my daughters that I am just so thankful for.”
The Villages club also presented a check for $10,000 to Danielle Stroud , senior director of development for Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, to help fund the Fruitland Park project. While this is the first house the group is building, President and club founder Kevin Tucker explained they have done a number of restoration and repair jobs in the community.
Habitat for Humanity-Lake Sumter preserves more than homes
The repair of Joan and Henry Kanczurzewski’s home is something that has been long awaited but with the aid of Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter that call for assistance has finally been answered. After four years of living in a home in dire need of repairs they are now in the process of rehab through Habitat’s preservation program. “I’m happy that we’re getting the help we need” says Mrs. Joan. Who has faced numerous challenges in getting their home repaired.
The past few years has taken a toll not only on the family’s home but also their spirits. Their home was hit by two hurricanes back to back which caused extensive damage. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew caused severe roof damage of their Lake County home. In 2017 Hurricane Irma caused their ceiling to collapse which exacerbated the damage. Mrs. Joan and her family were not sure where to turn after dealing with insurance companies not covering the costs. After resources seemed bleak Henry Kanczurzewski called the United Way hotline, who connected them with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter.
May 15, 2018 was the beginning of a positive shift for the Lake County family’s life. That day was the initial point of contact between Habitat Lake-Sumter and the Kanczurzewski’s. Since then Habitat has been committed to finding a way to assist them. Habitat’s Family Services coordinator Victoria Troxell has worked closely with the family over the last 2 years to ensure this multi-gen family receives assistance. After reviewing the extensive roof and dry wall damage, they are now in the beginning stages of repair. In Mid-September, the permitting process began, and plans are being made for the roofing company to begin construction in November. Owens Corning Roof Deployment will be donating the roof replacement through their program specifically geared towards Veterans. After the roof is repaired, Veronica says they are looking to team up with local vendors in the community to repair the interior of the home including dry wall and floor damage.
Joan says that she is filled with gratitude for everything Habitat Lake-Sumter has already done for her family. Joan and Henry live in the home with grandchildren Teddy, 14 and Alison, 27 along with Alison’s husband, Kory who is an Army Veteran. The Kanczurzewski’s raised Alison and Teddy along with their sister Mckenzie, 22. When asked about her family, Joan says her family are her “heart and soul.” And raising her grandchildren turned to be a “blessing in disguise”. Mrs. Joan’s love for her family runs deep and feels that the finished home repairs will bring the already close-knitted family only closer. Joan is looking forward to opening her home up to her extended family for the holidays after the repairs are complete. Facing this adversity together this family has learned even more about each other’s love, selflessness and strength. The Kanczurzewski family will forever be thankful for their newfound safety and security that Habitat Lake-Sumter’s Preservation & Repair program has brought.
By Lauren W – Volunteer Writer
My Name is Michelle Boisvert and thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter I am a future homeowner!
My story begins with my family. I am blessed with six children, three boys, and three girls. The ages of my children are Richard 20, Jessica 17, Kenneth 16, Joseph 11, Anna 9, and Cheryl 7. Being single with six children has been very challenging, but finding affordable housing has been even harder.
I heard about Habitat for Humanity years ago when my employer asked for volunteers to join Habitat for Humanity in a preservation and repair project. A friend and I cleaned and painted the home for a few days. The homeowner was a single older woman who had no one to help her. It was a great experience meeting her and having the opportunity to see how happy she was after her home was complete.
Now, I work full time for Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, Florida. I have been an employee for almost three years. It is amazing seeing all the families Habitat is helping and the hope in their eyes when someone is willing to help them.
My journey starts with hope for a safe home with a yard for my children. It is a big dream, but one that I have been working towards since we moved here in 2015 to be close to my parents.
Currently, we live in a tiny two-bedroom apartment. Inside the apartment, our stove has not worked since last Thanksgiving. The tub has a large hole, and the front door is breaking. None of the washers and dryers work when we need to do laundry. It is very depressing and makes the situation feel hopeless.
God can always bring good from evil and give hope where there is none. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” (King James Version, Rom 8:28).
The Covid-19 virus pandemic has been very hard on everyone. We have lost jobs, even friends and family. Due to the virus, even Habitat Lake-Sumter made some changes. But these changes made this house available for my family.
We are all looking forward to being in our new home by Thanksgiving. I am very excited to be working towards this beautiful home for my children. This home is such a blessing for our family. The children are already making plans for the big yard that include a garden and fire pit to roast marshmallows. The main discussion right now is who will get which room. No matter which room they pick, they will finally have a safe place to call home.
Written by Michelle Boisvert – Future Habitat Homeowner
Edited by Rebecca Eaton – Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Writer
On Emilee’s birthday last year, her dreams came true when she accompanied Rey on an adventure to find Chewbacca in a small trading post in Batuu. Walking side by side with her hero, Emilee is strong with the force, and with a mom like Amanda, it’s not hard to see where she gets it from. Now, thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter’s Youth Construction Academy and Habitat’s newest partner, Munn’s Air Conditioning & Heating, both mother and daughter will find a new happily ever after with their dream home.
Like their favorite Star Wars heroes, Amanda Brooks and her daughter Emilee know how to use their powers for good. Having volunteered recently with Habitat Lake-Sumter, Amanda is excited to play the role of mentor for both Emilee and students who will be building her dream home. She hopes that the Villages Charter High School students feel accomplished building her and Emilee’s future home, learning strong foundational principles like hospitality, hard work, stewardship, and creativity. “I encourage my daughter to stick by these core values. I would also encourage the high school students to stick to these core values and to reach for their goals,” said Amanda.
Amanda volunteered on a Preservation & Repair project recently and helped re-paint a house, she said it was nice to meet other future Habitat homeowners and volunteers and learn about their journeys. Now that she’s on the receiving end of the program, Amanda says she’s still taking it all in. “Honestly, I’m still in a state of ‘is this really happening?’ ‘am I really getting this?’, I don’t think I’m going to be in shock anymore until I’m finally moving in.”
Students enrolled in the high school’s Construction Management Program began active construction on Amanda and Emiliee’s home in late-August, with the house completion slated for May 2021. This highlights the school’s third year being involved in Habitat Lake-Sumter’s Youth Construction Academy and third house built with The Villages Charter High School. The program was created to provide students with valuable hands-on training and viable career opportunities after graduation. This year, Munn’s Air Conditioning & Heating will be providing support of the project by sponsoring the build and offering expertise and HVAC training to the students.
In the end, just like the magic of Walt Disney World, Amanda and Emilee will be able to create new precious memories in their future home, where Emilee also dreams of using the extra room as a Star Wars playroom. For Amanda and Emilee, their new home just might be the happiest place on Earth.
By Olivia Knight
Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and Lake Cares Food Pantry are partnering together with last minute touches on a newly built Eustis home for a single mom, Rachel Storey and her son, Jackson, 6.
Lake Care has made it a tradition with every Habitat family to provide a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator prior to move-in day, and on July 21, Irene O’Malley, executive director from Lake Cares, will be delivering groceries to the Storey house with some help from Habitat’s Family Service Coordinator Veronica Troxell.
“As anyone knows, moving in is time consuming and we (Lake Cares and Habitat) want to make sure the home is ready with groceries and meals that can be prepared for the coming weeks and provide stability for the homeowner,” says Lacie Himes, associate development director for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
Rachel and her son are eager to move into their new home.
“I’m looking forward to just being with my son and having our own house to call home,” Rachel told Style in an earlier interview. The pair has been living at her parents’ Grand Island home, which they moved into when Rachel was going through a divorce.
“My parents helped me with my son, too, because he was younger at the time,” she says. “I started going back to church and it was like God was putting me back piece by piece. I’m just so thankful for everything. God led me to the right people at the right time and Habitat couldn’t have been better to work with. I am beyond grateful.”
Two families who partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter received the keys to their homes on Wednesday, June 17th 2020; Kim Stull and Sara Mcghee officially became homeowners with a hand-up from Habitat Lake-Sumter.
When a family partners with Habitat for Humanity, they take their first step down a new path – one with fewer barriers to a better, healthier, and more financially stable life.
Families may find themselves in need of decent, affordable shelter due to a variety of circumstances—unpredictable rent increases, overcrowded living conditions, damaged or dilapidated structures, or lack of access to affordable financing.
But Habitat Lake-Sumter and our partner families walk side-by-side on the journey to home ownership. Sara and Kim both became active participants in the homeownership process. Following the criteria of our home ownership program, each had to fulfill 200 hours of ‘sweat equity’ by working alongside volunteers to build trusses, paint walls, and hang the doors; to build the places they now call home.
In the midst of fulfilling sweat equity hours, homeowners also attend financial education classes and learn the basics of budget management. Receiving the key to your home signifies more than being approved through a traditional home buying process, it also shows that you’ve invested 200 hours into your new home and education to build a better future for yourself and your family.
While their journey with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter is complete, the journey to a stronger, more stable future begins; we celebrate with Kim and Sara as they take their first steps as new homeowners. Congratulations to The Stull Family and the Mcghee Family!
My name is Tamiko Kim Stull and I am a future homeowner thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. Who knew that a chance encounter 6 months ago at my job would lead me to where I am today, about to close on a home of my own!
My journey has definitely been rewarding. I am 52 years old and a grandmother of 5 (soon to be 6) and I am raising my grandson, Ayden Kyle, who is 10 years old. I am originally from Sacramento, CA and my parents named me Tamiko Kim (pronounced Tommy-Ko) because my mother was a full blooded Okinawan. They were wonderful parents who brought me to Florida when I was 5 and I’ve never left. I grew up in the same house until I married so I had a wonderful childhood filled with happy memories of home and family.
My family is my greatest achievement. I have 3 children, Amanda, Glynnie and Jayson. My grandbabies are Ayden Kyle, Alexis Sophia (7), Corey Ray (5), Carter Preston (2) and Conner Matthew who was born this past February. I am also expecting another grandchild this year, precisely on the fourth of July. He or she will be our Yankee Doodle Baby and that is yet another blessing this year will bring.
Ayden and I are currently living in a 28 x 14 camper, we look on the bright side and call our small home “cozy and quaint” but trading in a camper for a brand new home is definitely a good thing! It gives me an overwhelming sense of joy because it hasn’t been easy living in such a confined space with my grandson. The tiny camper Ayden and I share is on a property owned by a friend, but it’s located in Webster and our commute is 30 minutes to and from school and work.
Our only mode of transportation is an old truck and that much driving everyday can cause a lot of wear and tear on an old vehicle, not to mention the possibility of being stranded alone with Ayden if it were to break down. So it’s an added blessing that our new house is right in town. Living in the camper can make daily tasks feel challenging. Small bathtub, limited hot water and no laundry; lugging our laundry to and from the laundromat is a lot of work. You can ask Ayden, he dislikes doing laundry and dreams of long hot showers. And I agree, I am most grateful for the laundry room that’s part of our new home. Finally, I’ll have a washer & dryer so that visits to the laundromat will be a thing of the past!
I met Wayne, the Construction Director at Habitat Lake-Sumter when he came into the Lake Panasoffkee Water Association, where I am the office manager. I helped Wayne set up water accounts for a couple new Habitat houses. Not long after, I heard that they were accepting applications for new homes and decided to look into it. I thought I might meet the requirements so I took a chance and applied. Before I knew it, I was advised that if I wanted to move forward, the house was ours. I was shocked!
I’m so thankful for how helpful everyone has been, especially Travis, he is the Site Supervisor who helped build my home. I worked alongside Travis to put some sweat equity into my house and he helped me paint our soon-to-be home. Although I had a wonderful time doing it, I will admit that climbing up and down the ladder put my legs out of commission for about 3 days, but it was still a great experience! The whole process has been amazing because Habitat is all about helping families succeed on their journey to being a homeowner.
Thanks to Habitat Lake-Sumter, we are saying goodbye to the camper and hello to a real home! A comfortable home where I can raise Ayden; I’m thankful that he’ll be growing up with his own room, in our own home.
Honestly, what I am really looking forward to is moving in and creating lasting memories of home and family for Ayden, the way my mother did for me. We might even have a fourth of July celebration for our two blessings, our Habitat home and our Yankee Doodle baby but it may have to be a short celebration because I’m sure Ayden Kyle will probably want to take a long hot shower…
Written by Tamiko Stull – Future Habitat Homeowner
Edited by Lorie Lozada – Writer & Habitat Homeowner
COVID-19 caused Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter to refigure some of its house-building procedures in March and April in order to stay on course in constructing five decent, affordable houses in Lady Lake, Leesburg, Eustis, and two homes in Lake Panasoffkee.
The homes will be owned by female-led households.
Single mom Rachel Storey and her son Jackson, who turns 6 on May 14, are eager for the July 1 (or sooner) closing on their future home in Eustis. Rachel says Habitat is waiting on some back-ordered cabinets to arrive for the house and once they’re installed and she’s given the house keys, the mother and son will move into the West St. Louis Avenue neighborhood.
“I’m looking forward to just being with my son and having our own house to call home,” says Rachel. The pair has been living at her parents’ Grand Island home, which they moved into when Rachel was going through a divorce.
“My parents helped me with my son, too, because he was younger at the time,” she says. “I started going back to church and it was like God was putting me back piece by piece. I’m just so thankful for everything. God led me to the right people at the right time and Habitat couldn’t have been better to work with. I am beyond grateful.”
Rachel says Habitat is a great program for those who qualify. “They help so many people out and they have their heart in it as well. All the people who work at Habitat love their job, love what they do, and they love helping people.”
Danielle Stroud, senior director of program and partnership for Habitat, says COVID-19 curtailed community volunteers being able to work on the houses.
“We worked with subcontractors a little bit more than normally,” Danielle says. “With limited opportunities, and of course for safety purposes, we really restricted who was allowed on-site. We increased the use of sub-contractors, we reallocated some job duties, and we also had a very small select crew of really skilled volunteers that felt comfortable still coming out to help finish the projects.”
She says construction on each house was deemed essential. “We had suppliers, contractors, inspectors to line up. There are so many facets that go into construction, and thankfully we were able to make all of those pieces aligned to be able to finish the homes.”
Habitat homeowners typically do sweat equity on their homes, yet the coronavirus pandemic prevented from them being able to be at the construction sites. “So, we provided a lot of virtual engagements that they could do to still earn their equity like promote us or engage with us on social media,” adds Danielle.
Hi, my name is Lorie Lozada. I am a recent Habitat Homeowner and very proud to be a part of the Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter family!
I want to share my story and to thank you for being a part of Women Build 2020. Helping others achieve their homeownership dreams is incredibly rewarding and after being so blessed, my family and I are happy to pay it forward. Since our home was built by Women Builder’s last year, I’m joining a team to become a Women Builder myself.
Some of you know my story but for those of you who don’t, my husband, James, and I lost our home in 2017 to Hurricane Maria. For us, it was a catastrophic and life changing event because on Sept. 19th our home was standing but on Sept. 20th, our home was gone. It was an incredible shock and the heartache was indescribable. We thought we were prepared: we had all the necessary supplies and gas in our vehicle. But a vehicle is of no use on roads blocked by trees and charged devices provide no communication when the infrastructure has collapsed.
We packed what little we had left in our vehicle and drove to a homeless shelter, we spent our nights sleeping in classrooms amongst strangers. Our journey was both scary and exciting, but leaving our family in Puerto Rico behind was very difficult and of all the things we lost, our stability is the one thing that has affected my son, JianLuc, the most.
After three months of what I can only describe as chaos, we arrived in the quaint town of Eustis. A town we had only seen on the return addresses of our relatives Christmas cards.
We knew nothing about our new home. New lives, new people, and for my husband, a new language. Our lives changed rapidly and the drastic difference is sometimes hard to manage.
Thankfully, we’ve met a lot of great people along the way and have had a ton of support. First, from our extended family here in Eustis, the “Berrios Clan” because a united family can get you through anything. Secondly, we have also received support through the American Red Cross, FEMA, and from local businesses; like Kevco Builders, who have been of great assistance to my family. In fact, the very caring owner of Kevco Builders, Mr. Joe Ziller, helped furnish our new home!!
We appreciate everyone, but nearest and dearest to our hearts is Habitat For Humanity of Lake-Sumter and specifically, Mr. Kent Adcock, whose kindness and commitment to us was extraordinary; without him, we would not have this beautiful and affordable “dream home.” A home where we can try to, once again, feel safe.
Actually, it’s been 2 years and 6 months of trying really hard to feel safe again. Trying to get our lives back on a familiar track, and trying to recuperate our stability and peace of mind because even with all of these blessings, some things have not been easy.
You see, a life changing event tends to leave scars. It has a way of affecting almost every aspect of your life, especially your mental health, and it can leave you riddled with fear, anxiety and a desperate need to feel safe.
Feeling safe, especially with what we are living through today, is the only thing on anyone’s mind as we face another crisis. One that’s bigger and scarier than any hurricane. The coronavirus has become a pandemic that is rapidly changing all of our lives. While it’s not at all like a hurricane, the preparations feel the same… racing to the stores, buying 2 or 3 of everything, hoarding food and water, feeling panic and confusion; and you realize that once again, you’re in the midst of chaos.
It all feels sadly familiar to me, and while I try to keep my anxiety in check, the flashbacks are inevitable.
We must remember that these changes in our daily activities are temporary, so let’s not let chaos take over. Let’s pray for calm and follow guidelines which state that we are to stay home and “hunker down.” What a relief it is to know that because of Habitat Lake-Sumter, my family and I have a home to hunker down in! And an affordable mortgage that allows me to save for emergencies just like this. That’s what every family should have.
Of course, let’s be mindful of our new normal and practice social distancing but let’s not forget to stay focused and remain connected via online support. It’s important that we continue to “provide families with strength and stability through shelter.” This way, other families can have their own place to hunker down, feel secure, and weather any storm, together!
Lorie Lozada (The Santiago-Lozada family)- Habitat Homeowner & Women Builder
On Wednesday, the nonprofit hosted the build at an under-construction home in Eustis, which will eventually go to Rachel Storey, a single mother, and her five-year-old son, Jackson.
EUSTIS – Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and Lowe’s extended an open invitation to women volunteers from throughout the community.
The women were sought to participate in a local event for International Women Build Week.
On Wednesday, the nonprofit hosted the build at an under-construction home in Eustis, which will eventually go to Rachel Storey, a single mother, and her five-year-old son, Jackson.
The Lowe’s-sponsored event – they provided the tools and materials – served as the local kickoff of the global initiative happening simultaneously in more than 235 communities in the United States, India and Canada. International Women Build Week runs from March 1-8 to highlight the global need for safe and affordable housing.
A couple of local volunteers showed up, were handed hard hats and put to work.
Lowe’s representatives, expected to have been at the work site, were unable to participate due to scheduling conflicts.
Habitat staff however, jumped in to compensate and the morning turned out to be a productive, educational and empowering one.
Site Supervisor Ernie Burley, in charge of teaching new skills to volunteers said he is always glad to have able and most of all, willing volunteers on any project.
After touring the home she and her family were presented Friday, Lorie Lozada said: “We have two beds and TVs but we need sofas and a dining table, things like that. But that’s OK, little by little we’ll get what we need. The house is the important thing.”
EUSTIS – Around this time last year, James Santiago, his wife Lorie Lozada and their now 8-year-old son Jianluc Santiago were pondering a move from Puerto Rico to Florida after losing their home and possessions to Hurricane Maria. They had no idea where they would be living or what was in store for them.
On Friday morning however, they received keys to their very own home in Eustis, built just for them by Habitat for Humanity and other organizations, including the Ohlsson Charitable Trust, the Women Builders and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, who all came together for the cause.
“We are emotional and so excited,” Lozada said. “We just feel so incredibly lucky,”
The family had first been living in a hotel, and then in a nearby apartment.
“It’s a beautiful house and I feel so happy and grateful,” Santiago said.
Friends and family of the recipients, volunteers and members of all the participating organizations were invited to a “Welcome Home” dedication ceremony in front of the 3-bedroom, 2-bath home on Friday morning.
Habitat’s CEO Kent Adcock said for him, helping the family was especially meaningful because his own parents were victims to the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and lost their home because of it.
“I know what they are feeling; what they are going through,” Adcock said at the dedication.
Through the building process, the house served to help many others along the way.
Lake Tech’s Laurie Bryant of the Women Builder’s “Hammer Knocker” team, said she was able to learn about what goes into building a home from scratch and found it very fulfilling.
Bryant and her team members on Friday, presented the family with a bible and a tool kit after they were presented with a flag by Ron Grove of the Sons of the American Revolution.
“I am honored that we were able to help build this house,” Bryant said.
“We looked out the window and watched our walls tumbling down our stairs,” says Lorie Lozada.
Lozada, originally from New York, watched in horror with her family as their house was torn apart in front of their eyes as Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, ravaged Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017.
“After my father passed away in ‘96, my mom moved back Puerto Rico to be closer to family” says Lozada. “When my mother had a heart attack three years later, my daughter Alexandra and I moved to Puerto Rico to take care of her.”
That’s where Lozada says she met her husband James. “By the time my mother passed away, I’d met James and we had a son, Jianluc.” So, rather than move back to New York when her mother passed, Lozado’s family built a life in Puerto Rico. There they lived in a second story wooden addition, built above her mother-in-law’s concrete home.
“When the storm hit, we thought we were prepared,” says Lozada. “We had canned goods, gas, water, enough supplies for 8 or 9 days.” But the storm was much worse than they could have imagined. “I’m from New York, I’d never seen anything like this, it was horrifying,” said Lozada who says she can remember the terrible noises coming from above as they hunkered down in her mother-in-law’s home.
Peering out during the storm, Lozada recalls seeing her refrigerator falling to the ground just outside of the window. “The wind picked the fridge back up, ripped it in two, and sent the doors flying in one direction and the rest flying in the other.” When the storm finally past, Lozada says their home was destroyed and, because her mother-in-law’s home sustained damage as well, they could not rebuild the second story addition. “One of the walls of our home was blown onto our car. We lost everything except for a few mementos and some clothing we had time to grab.”
“FEMA assessed the damage and our situation and offered us some help, including airfare to the United States.” As a territory of the U.S., citizens of Puerto Rico also have American Citizenship by birth so coming to the U.S., where both Lozada and her husband have family, was an option but it wasn’t an easy decision.
The couple’s son had grown close to Lozada’s daughter Alexandra, and her husband’s son Kevin, both of which chose to stay in Puerto Rico, making their decision to leave even harder.
“We sat down and prayed and prayed as a family,” says Lozada. “We’re big on our faith and we put everything in God’s hands.”
Rather than going back to her home state of New York, they chose to relocate to Florida where her husband has cousins and extended family. Lozada says the transition wasn’t easy but she’s incredibly grateful for all the organizations that have lent them a hand in their time of need, including Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
“After living in a hotel for a while, we eventually settled into an apartment in Eustis,” says Lozada. While they were looking for housing, one of James’ cousins encouraged the family to apply for help through Habitat. “Once we were contacted by Habitat, we still weren’t certain we be able to make it work. We really had to work with a lot of agencies to tie it all together.” The Small Business Association, FEMA and help from Habitat Lake-Sumter all played a role in helping Lozada and her family qualify for a home through one of Habitat’s programs.
“It’s a pale green bungalow with orange shutters,” says Lozada. “When you see it in person, the colors work beautifully together.” And she’s seen the property often, living within walking distance now, Lozada passes by her future home on a daily basis and says it should be ready any day now.
Lacie Himes, Development Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, says construction on Lozada’s home began last spring and was made possible through the fundraising and volunteer hours of the organization’s Women Build program. Himes says the Inmate Construction Academy also played a significant role in completing the house, bringing together two of Habitat’s most successful programs to build a new home for Lozada and her family.
Two years ago, Lozada and her family were preparing for Hurricane Maria. This fall, they’re looking forward to a different kind of chaos.
“We’re hoping to be in our new home before Thanksgiving,” said Lozada who plans to start their own traditions, bringing together influences from both Puerto Rico and the United States. “We’re planning to share the holidays with lots of friends and family, bless the house with everyone in it and have a big, crazy Thanksgiving!”
By David Larrick
You’re invited to meet the Lozada’s and celebrate with them as we dedicate their home on Friday, November 22nd – Contact Shari for details and to RSVP: Shari@HabitatLS.org or (352) 483-0434 x 118
November is a time to honor our Veterans and those who have sacrificed so much in service to our country. As part of our Veteran’s Housing Initiative, we serve veterans through our Home Ownership program and through Preservation and Repair. Here, you’ll get a chance to meet veteran, Eddie Broglin and learn what’s next for our Veterans in Lake and Sumter Counties.
Born and raised in Florida, Eddie Broglin is a true Florida Native. When speaking to Eddie about his home state, you can barely mention a new place before Eddie tells you his connection to that area; Lake Wales, Bartow, Lake City, Fort Pierce, it becomes apparent very quickly that Florida holds a special place in Eddie’s heart.
After graduating high school, Eddie Broglin was faced with the challenge of what he was going to do next. A fellow classmate told him that he was going to join the National Guard and convinced Eddie to sign up as well. Stationed at Wauchula, Florida where he worked with gunners and as a mess cook, Eddie then moved to the Naples Armory where he went on to serve an eight year career. While Eddie learned a lot from being in the service, he unfortunately suffered a heat stroke that would have a lasting impact on him the rest of his life. After his military career, Eddie moved around the state, and left feeling un-grounded while staying with friends or renting, he decided it was time to find a home of his own.
Eddie describes his experience of working with multiple real estate agents and exhausting his resources through Veterans Affairs, his search for a home appeared hopeless. “I was looking for a studio apartment, but mortgages and rent have flopped. Now it’s cheaper to pay a mortgage than to pay rent,” says Eddie. Eddie describes an experience that is relatable to many and sits at the very heart of Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s mission.
Eddie decided a “tiny home” would provide the best solution to affording a home of his own and started to search out of state, believing he would have to move from Florida in order to find affordable housing.
Finally, Eddie met real estate agent, Maureen Campbell. Maureen knew about Eddie’s desire to stay in Florida and his interest in “tiny homes.” With these two requests in mind, Maureen suggested Eddie look into Habitat for Humanity as a resource and facilitated the process for Eddie to apply to be a homeowner with Habitat Lake-Sumter. A cottage-style home currently being built in Coleman, Florida was THE home Eddie had been searching for.
While discussing his newly built home, it’s evident how grateful Eddie is to be able to be a part of the Habitat Lake-Sumter’s home ownership program; a home he believes is built with love by the staff and volunteers who have put “their heart in to it.”
“The first thing I did was plant my red maple tree,” a tree Eddie bought when he first learned of being accepted into Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s home ownership program, “to symbolize being rooted here,” says Eddie. In this quiet community in Coleman, FL, balanced by rural and growth; Eddie has found a place to plant his roots a little deeper into Florida.
If you’d like to know more about the work we’ve done with Veterans this year, come visit Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter’s booth at the Villagers for Veterans Film Festival on Wednesday, November 6th.
To support upcoming Veterans projects throughout Lake and Sumter, donate today!
Jessica Strunk has a lot on her plate, including the immense challenge of being a single mother of two young boys, but that hasn’t stopped her from charging through 2019 with her sights set on several significant milestones, one of which was owning her own home.
Jessica and her “little family,” as she calls it, moved in with her mother in August of 2019 along with her promise that she just needed a year to “figure everything out.” And now, with her home nearing completion, she’s poised to make good on that promise as her and her boys, eight-year-old Collin and four-year-old Clayton, are about to move into a home of their own.
As the Program Manager for an Adult Day Training Program, Jessica works with adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Her boss, Dr. Paula Whetro, who heads up Building Blocks Ministries in Minneola, Florida, first introduced her to the idea of working with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter to own her own home for the first time. A home she lovingly tells her boys will be their “forever home.”
The pair, Jessica says, are very close, even though they have a 4-year age difference. But, that doesn’t stop them from being excited about having their own rooms. So excited in fact, that 4-year-old Clayton asks to move in on a daily basis because he doesn’t quite understand that a house can have doors and windows and still not be 100% complete.
Jessica, however, has a bit more insight on what it takes to complete a home now that she’s put in her sweat equity with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter as a member of the “Women Build” event team known as “The Uplifters.” Although this wasn’t her first time swinging a hammer, Jessica says she did complete some tasks new to her as she installed window frames, built a wall and attached hurricane straps around the entire house.
If raising two young boys, building her first home, managing a day program for adults with learning disabilities and putting in sweat equity with Habitat for Humanity wasn’t enough, Jessica is also on track to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with an emphasis on Applied Behavior Analysis by the end of the year.
About the time her own home is complete, Jessica will be celebrating another milestone, turning 30 in late July. And while she noted that she’s always enjoyed entertaining friends and family at the homes she’s rented, she’s also incredibly excited to finally be inviting them to gather for a celebration in a home she can call her own. For a family led by a young woman with so much ambition, this surely won’t be the only celebration to grace the Strunk household.
Written by David Larrick
If you are familiar with Habitat for Humanity you’re likely familiar with the term “Sweat Equity.” A simple phrase with a big meaning. Sweat equity is often used to describe the value someone adds to a project through the hard work they contribute to making it a success. For example, Habitat home owners contribute sweat equity by volunteering on a worksite, in the office, or through educational courses.
For Anita Brooks, the term “sweat equity” may have been new but the concept was far from foreign to her. Ms. Brooks, as her students call her, is a third-grade teacher who earned her teaching degree while working for the school district. “I worked as a receptionist for 12 years,” said Anita. “And I put myself through school so I could become a teacher.”
It was a colleague of Anita’s at the school that first turned her on to the idea of partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build a home. Anita and her family had always been renters but had a unique opportunity to build on land deeded to her by her mother. The two-and-half acre parcel was just minutes from their current home, in rural Oxford and the location played a part in the home Anita and her family chose to build.
“They gave us a few options in terms of models we could pick from,” said Anita. “Being in the country, I knew I wanted a porch.” Her daughter, 15-year-old Lailah suggested they go a four-bedroom model so Anita could use one of the rooms as an office. Anita agreed noting that she often brings work home with her no matter how much time she spends at school.
As her house begins to take shape, Anita says she stops by every day after school to see what has been accomplished and hopes that someone is still there working so she can express her gratitude. “I just want to thank everyone who has had a hand in building my home,” said Anita. Those working on her home often seem surprised by her gesture, but Anita feels it’s only right to express gratitude to those helping her accomplish something she couldn’t do on her own.
As a family that rented but never owned a home of their own, Anita says that her daughter is excited to finally have a room that she can do something with. “She likes to watch where her room is going to be. She’s enjoying the thought of picking out colors and making it her own,” said Anita.
The family plans to close on their home this summer and Anita says they’ll likely have a house warming party just to have family over. “I don’t need anything else, no more toasters or anything,” she said laughingly. “But we’re very family-orientated and this will be a great place to celebrate each other and the things we accomplish.”
Anita also wants her daughter and her older son Brandell, who’s 21 and no longer lives at home, to know that they finally have a home to come back to.
As for sweat equity in her new home, Anita says she’s ready to invest in the house she plans to make a home for her and her children. “I’ve been saving up my vacation days,” she says with enthusiasm. “I’m looking forward to helping out and getting my hands dirty!”
By David Larrick
For Jasmine and her six-year-old daughter, the dream of owning a new home began with an email from The Villages Charter Schools. For the students at the high school, they began building those dreams a year earlier.
The Villages Charter School, in The Villages, Florida, had just launched their Construction Management Academy and had assembled an advisory committee that included industry experts to help steer curriculum for the new academy. Don McGruder, CEO of RoMac Lumber and a member of the advisory committee, suggested the academy partner with Habitat for Humanity which then began working with the high school to hammer out the details of a partnership as soon as possible.
The following year, an email looking for applicants to participate as the home owner landed in Jasmine’s inbox. “I remember when I was chosen for the opportunity,” said Jasmine. “I was super excited and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.”
Jasmine’s daughter Carmen was overjoyed as well. “She was literally jumping for joy,” Jasmine said of her daughter’s reaction to being told they were getting a home of their own. “She’s excited about finally having a backyard.”
As for the students participating in the Construction Management Academy, they were excited about the opportunity to give back to the community while preparing for employment or advanced training in the building construction industry. The academy’s curriculum, which is a credit course for the students, outlines opportunities to learn everything from basic use of hand tools, plan reading and rough carpentry to more advanced concepts such as site preparation, estimating and knowledge of codes, regulations and sustainability issues relevant to the construction industry.
The academy’s students have had hands on involvement with everything except for plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work which must be done by licensed professionals. Even so, they were able to observe those trades being performed in a live environment and were presented with speakers and other learning opportunities to increase their knowledge of those trades.
Jasmine learned some new skills as well by helping with painting and the installation of the home’s dry wall. And, while her daughter was too young to help in the construction, they were both able to meet some of the young men helping them realize their dream. They have a great group of kids working on the house,” said Jasmine. “It’s amazing to see what these young men have accomplished.”
The mother-daughter duo gets to see those accomplishments on a near daily basis. “They’re ahead of schedule and we’re closing in April,” said Jasmine who takes Carmen to check on their new home every day after school. Jasmine also noted Carmen’s excitement at seeing all of the young kids playing in their future neighborhood. “I’m excited because now we’ll be in a new neighborhood and I can make new friends,” shared Carmen.
The partnership with The Villages Charter School has been such a success that Habitat for Humanity is already in the process of selecting a home site on which to work with the academy next year. Habitat is also extending the program into Leesburg where it plans to partner with Leesburg High School on a similar program.
As for Jasmine and Carmen, they are planning on celebrating their move with both of their birthdays in June. “We’ll be having a housewarming party with some friends and family as well,” says Jasmine. But Carmen has much bigger plans. “In June, for my birthday, I’m going to have a mermaid slumber party with all my friends and cousins!” Surely a place and time for new dreams to come true.
By David Larrick
The holidays are times when traditions are born, when gathering together holds more sentiment and when houses become homes. Whether your welcoming in generations of family and friends, or your traveling hundreds of miles to spend time with your loved ones, the phrase “Home for the Holidays” stirs emotions in all of us. However, for those dealing with the chaos caused by a sudden change in their living situation, the holidays are often accompanied by constant reminders that their sense of home has been washed away.
Surviving the utter destruction that swept through Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria was just the beginning of an arduous journey that led Yolanda and Osvaldo to Central Florida and ultimately to Habitat for Humanity. “The experience was horribly devastating,” says Yolanda. “We lost our electricity, we lost food and there was no water. A lot of lives were lost on the island.” In fact, nearly 3,000 deaths we’re caused by the hurricane.
With the help of a church located in the states, the couple fled their home in Puerto Rico, destined for Sanford, Florida, with only the belongings they could carry in two suitcases. After spending their first month in a hotel in Sanford, they were able to find an apartment in Casselberry. However, after their first year in the apartment, the rent was set to increase to a point that would challenge their means.
“I started searching in August for other options, rental opportunities, but none suited our economic abilities,” said Yolanda. “I turned on the news and an interview that mentioned a community being developed by Habitat for Humanity caught my attention.”
The community was Habitat for Humanity’s Veteran’s Village in Umatilla, Florida. Veteran’s Village is a collaborative project that provides access to affordable quality housing and holistic wraparound services through a partnership with Combat Veterans to Careers.
“There’s our House!” Yolanda remembers saying to her husband. What she didn’t remember was hearing any contact information. A week went by and, while in prayer and searching the internet, Yolanda found the information she was looking for and, after confirming her husband Osvaldo was a Veteran of the Vietnam war, they began the process.
The couple celebrated their first Christmas in their new home with their children who traveled to spend the holidays with them. “Our new home was full of joy, many emotions and gratitude,” said Yolanda. They also brought with them the tradition of “Three Kings Day,” a Latin-American celebration akin to the “Feast of the Epiphany,” along with songs from the island and traditional holiday cuisine.
“In Puerto Rico, everything is decorated with lights during the Christmas season and that’s exactly what we did here,” said Yolanda. “We decorated the outside of our house as well as the inside with our Christmas Tree.”
The couple says the warmth of their new community has contributed to them feeling at home. They’ve developed “marvelous friendships,” sharing meals and great conversations with their new neighbors.
Having a “home” again was more than just finding an affordable place to live for Yolanda as Osvaldo. “In this stage of our lives, my husband and I are enjoying the peace and tranquility which God has gifted us through our new house,” she said. “And a house becomes a home by the love that is shared in it.”
To a passerby, the group of people at Mary and Raymond Scott’s house may have looked like a gathering of old friends and family. Among the hustle and bustle of a restoration in progress, there was laughter, story telling, and a sense of something special happening in the air.
They weren’t old friends though; they were a group of volunteers that Mary Scott saw outside another house in her Wildwood neighborhood, not too long ago. She noticed the Habitat for Humanity truck, and with her own home needing repairs, she felt drawn to get out and ask for help. Her application was approved, and her own experience with Habitat began. She considers it to be one of her greatest blessings in life.
The night before the restoration, Mary was so excited that she couldn’t sleep. “It was like my birthday and Christmas wrapped up into one,” she says. That following morning, when the volunteers stepped onto her property, she made it her mission to make them all feel welcomed. She greeted each volunteer with handshakes and hugs, taking the time to get to know each one personally. She would ask about their families and share stories about hers. She had cold drinks on hand, and prepared snacks and lunch so nobody would go hungry. “I like to make everyone feel special,” she says. “To me, everybody is somebody.” The gratitude and kindness Mary and Raymond showed ensured that those somebodies were going to pour their hearts into restoring their home for them.
As the house was being repaired and painted, a new AC unit was being installed and landscaping was being selected. If you didn’t know any better, you could have easily mistaken Raymond Scott for a volunteer. If there was a ladder being climbed, Raymond was at the bottom supporting it. When the AC was being installed, he was right there holding it in place. He stirred paint and brought tools, humble and helpful through the whole project.
Their experience with Habitat for Humanity has impacted the Scotts greatly. Not only do they have a fresh coat of paint on their home, but they also have a fresh perspective on life. Mary says she “thanks God every day” for this opportunity, and with her son being sick in the hospital believes that Habitat was sent into her life at a time she needed it the most. “I’ve never had anyone help me like this,” says Mary. “I feel so happy.”
When the project is completed, the volunteers leave but they are not forgotten. This blessing has brought Mary and Raymond Scott closer together as a couple and they are thankful for that. Every morning they are up early, proudly taking care of their home. Together, they replanted a banana plant gifted to them by a volunteer so that it could get more sun. Neighbors slow down to compliment the colors Mary picked out for the house, and regulars at her church gush about how pretty it is. Their son joked about not recognizing the house at first, and their six-year-old great granddaughter picks up a broom and helps them sweep the “new house.” While this journey has brought the Scott family closer together, their kindness and appreciation has left an unforgettable impression on the volunteers.
I guess you could say that Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just work on homes, they work on hearts, too.
By: Lauren Lester
As one of the top 10 homebuilders in the country, Habitat for Humanity is not new to the construction world. What differentiates us here at Habitat Lake Sumter is the ways in which we adapt to the evolving needs of the community and take advantage of unique opportunities to do so. One of the ways we accomplished that was through the building of the Veterans Village in Umatilla, and the project was novel enough to catch the eye of the National Association of Homebuilders. Check out the full article here!
by Lee Owen
Some say there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Some say it’s probably a train.
But not Priscilla. She’d just smile and say no, not a train. Something entirely unexpected and perfectly poignant. Something that includes you, dear reader.
After being laid off in 2009, Priscilla focused on education to improve her long term job prospects: an AS in Building Construction Technologies, a BAS in Supervision and Administration at UCF, and an AS in Drafting and Design. She graduated Suma Cum Laude, with Honors for highest GPA. Her mentor encouraged her to pursue her Master’s degree. All the while, she was working part time and driving an hour each way to help with her elderly mother’s medical appointments.
And then a tunnel named Alzheimer’s made its all-consuming debut. With no extended family in the region, the next step was obvious: she withdrew from the Master’s program, then left her job to become her mother’s fulltime caregiver. She even tried working from home but her mother’s needs made it impossible.
That was in 2014. By the time her mother was approved for Medicaid help in 2016, she and her savings were exhausted, credit cards were maxed out, and she’d sold every major item she could to help with the expenses. With all that going on, there wasn’t time, money, or energy left to keep the home in good repair. Then one day a friend told her about Habitat for Humanity’s Preservation and Repair Program.
Priscilla called Habitat and began the application process. She shares that the staff’s compassion and attention to detail were a great encouragement. Habitat’s site supervisor helped the volunteers and sub-contractors understand her mother’s needs. They performed their duties with gentleness, caution, and overall excellence.
“Never once was I made to feel I was ‘less’ because I was in need, or that I wasn’t worthy,” Priscilla says. “How the Preservation and Repair staff do business should be the benchmark for all other organizations that profess missions to help those in need.”
Her days of wondering if there’d ever be a light at the end of the tunnel are over. Habitat’s volunteers and sub-contractors made interior accessibility modifications, painted the house, tore down a rotting shed, removed dead trees, hung a “Welcome” flag, gave new life to the flower beds, and added a bird bath. Outside their living room window, a new light is shining. And no, it’s not a train. It’s one that Habitat’s Preservation and Repair team chose especially for this yard: a solar-powered flamingo light.
And how are you, dear reader, a part of this? Your support—by reading our newsletters, telling others, volunteering, and donating—has enabled us to reach more families who need a light at the end of their own tunnels. And the entirely unexpected, perfectly-poignant moment you helped create? Well…
“Each time my mom comes into and leaves our living room, she looks out the front window for that light.” Priscilla pauses, then smiles. “What all those people didn’t know is that my mom loves flamingos.”
So, keep reading. Keep telling others. Keep sharing what your Home Town Habitat is doing to lighten the lives of those who need a hand up, not a hand out. Together, let’s light up Lake and Sumter Counties!
Also, we’d like to pass along information about the team that Priscilla set up for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event in honor of her mother. The Walk is on October 6th at Lake Eola in downtown Florida, and if you’d like to support her and the cause you can do so by donating, walking with the team, or both! Information on both can be found here.
Through his time in the United States Air Force and his various career tracks post-service, Shawn Unger has travelled across most of the North American continent. Born and raised in West Virginia, Shawn enlisted right after graduating high school in 1985 and spent a full year in Mississippi learning to be a radar technician. He was initially slated to head to Europe for his duty station, but it was then changed last minute to South Dakota.
Once he left the Air Force, he began working for SAIC, a major IT support company, and transitioned from there to Sprint where he worked up to a position as Network Service Manager for the AOL account. After a talk with his father one day at a NASCAR race, he decided to try out the trucking world, and drove big rigs all over the US and Canada; his last employer, out of Tampa, is what led him to make Florida his home.
He left the trucking industry to work for the Department of Homeland Security for a short while before returning to an IT position with Convergys in Lake Mary, Florida. He now lives with his two young sons, Phoenix and Caleb, while his eldest son Timmy lives in New Hampshire. Shawn is looking forward to his wedding later this year to his fiancée, Rowena, who is from the Philippines.
Scientists say life is made up of atoms and energy, but I say it is made up of stories. Stories help us understand how we impact the world and how the world impacts us. Our stories can be silly, or heartbreaking, or thrilling. Some stories are brief – a spontaneous weekend getaway and some can span years – a journey of self-discovery. I think the best stories are the ones we share with other people, the ones that are experienced both individually and collectively. The people I met on the Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Honduras will forever be a part of my story because together we impacted the lives of a deserving family and of each other.
Our team of volunteers – a group of people, whom without Habitat for Humanity, would have probably never met – quickly became a family. We grew to know and appreciate each other’s quirks and each other’s strengths. We shared once-in-a-lifetime-excursions – snorkeling through coral reefs, touring gardens and eating exotic fruits straight from the trees, sharing meals with locals, and visiting a pineapple plantation. For me, the most impactful part of our journey was working side by side, sharing tools and water and a lot of sweat at the build site. The act of joining together to create something so life changing for another family truly fortified the bond of our new volunteer family.
When my mom bakes my birthday cake she says, “I made it with love.” That is how I felt at the build site. As I filled cinder block joints with hand mixed cement and shoveled dirt to fill the foundation, I could feel my love and energy being poured into the Espinoza’s future home. The warm air around me was filled with a surreal feeling of hope and I felt completely at peace. I could picture Tatiana and Dylan playing in their bedrooms, safely surrounded by the walls I helped to build. During our farewell celebration, after becoming so immersed in the culture of Honduras and the Espinoza family, I felt uneasy to be leaving this experience and these people behind me. The Espinoza family touched my soul and I will remember this blessing always. Just as the Espinoza family has become a part of my story, I have become a part of theirs and in that sense, I never fully left. As they move forward and write new stories in their new home, part of me will be there with them…in the dirt, in the cement, and in their hearts.
We knew when we built the Veterans Village that we would meet some people with remarkable backgrounds and unique experiences. After all, serving in the military is essentially a guarantee of at least a few good stories. However, among all of our homeowners in the Veterans Village, none stand out as defiantly and inspirational as Ike Fretz. Our most recent resident to move into the Village, Ike’s history of service is impressive, but it’s what he’s done – and continues to do – post-service that really galvanizes the warrior spirit.
Ike served in the United States Army from 1989 through 1994 and was on active duty for Desert Storm. During that conflict, he sustained an injury while working as part of a two-man evacuation team. His actions earned him several commendations but they also left him permanently injured and wheelchair-bound. It was several years into his recovery and adaptation process that a recreational therapist introduced him to adaptive sports, and it was the beginning of a brand new outlook.
Since then, Ike has won multiple gold medals in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games events, including power lifting, basketball, bowling, and hand-cycling, which he took to the extreme with a Washington-State-to-Washington-DC cycle in 2012. Ike says that when he competes in these games, he does so to honor other veterans that he holds dear, whether living or passed, and uses his actions in spite of adversities to inspire other veterans to keep fighting.
Because of his profound story, dedication, and impact, an anonymous donor took note of Ike’s placement into a Veterans Village home and decided to pay off Ike’s mortgage, in full, as a way of honoring how he served our country and continues to serve other veterans. We were able to surprise Ike and his caretaker, Sherrie, with the news on May 23, and have an opportunity for the donor to meet Ike and thank him in person. It was a truly moving experience and added yet another momentous chapter to Ike’s already extraordinary story.
A Beginning and an End
On April 14th, Habitat of Lake-Sumter was proud to dedicate three new homes and officially welcome the Homrich, Dyhr, and Mabry families to the Veterans Village! The families were honored for their hard work and dedication through the completion of the Home ownership program, and were celebrated on beginning the first chapter of their new journey. This event came as the perfect ending to a season of generosity in our community, as local donors alongside RoMac-Lumber & Supply raised money in support of the community through the March Match campaign.
The Veterans Housing Initiative has always been a special cause to Don Magruder, CEO of RoMac, and his pledge to match donations, dollar for dollar, inspired donors to give generously… doubling their investment in affordable housing. This year, the match ran through the month of March, and because of the community’s generosity and dedication to the mission, the campaign met and exceeded the goal of $10,000!
Our Community Partner
As one of our long-standing partners, RoMac Lumber & Supply has been a huge contributor to our mission and has enabled us to continue reaching the community across Lake and Sumter county. RoMac has been a staple of Lake County for over 70 years and has expanded to serve much of the Southeast United States. Whether it’s wood, trusses, doors, or otherwise, RoMac has remained a steady supplier of quality materials and service for central Florida and beyond.
Our Homeowners, The Reason to Give
In attendance to greet and celebrate our three Veteran families were 20 community members. The joint home dedication, gave an opportunity for food, fellowship, and viewing of the families homes. Each homeowner has their own story to tell, but here is little bit about each family:
- Greg Homrich served in the United States Marine Corps, Army, and National Guard, and is still serving his community as a dispatcher for the Leesburg Police Department. Upon getting to know Greg, you will quickly find out that he is most excited about becoming a member of this unique community, having already built relationships with many of his neighbors.
- Beth Dyhr, is the spouse of her late husband who proudly served in the United States Marine Corps. As Beth’s first home as a single women, she is thrilled to start a new chapter in her life and instill her own passionate, vibrant spirit into the home.
- Kathleen Mabry was a member of the United States Army, and her ability to define strength through adversity left a mark on our staff. She is proud to be a new homeowner, and shared that the opportunity is most special because it offers a safe and secure home for her to raise her 10-year old grandson.
About the Community
The Veterans Housing Initiative led us to develop the Veterans Village in Umatilla, Florida, where veterans and their families enjoy safe, affordable housing built in a small neighborhood that focuses on relationships. Our ability to meet the needs of our local veterans is due to the compassion and generosity of our community and through partners like RoMac. We also teamed up with Combat Veterans to Careers to offer extra services to the residents – things like healthcare, transportation, and help navigating the Veterans Affairs system, to name a few. This ensures that we’re providing not just a house but a community network of support, which for many veterans is crucial for the stability they seek.
As a community-based and community-focused organization, it’s always inspiring to see how much can be done on a local scale. Your consistent support, whether it’s financial or volunteering or both, never ceases to amaze us, and we thank you so much for it! We’re looking ahead eagerly to the next big project and can’t wait to bring you along for it.
UMATILLA — Military veteran Don Marshall, 76, lived with his wife, Mae, for 14 years in an RV in this Lake County city.
“I’ve paid $47,000 over the years into the campground,” said Marshall, a retired railroad car builder who was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. “They’d raise the rent, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now, I’m paying to own.”
The couple recently moved into a 1,100-square-foot cottage, one of 14 in the Lake-Sumter Habitat for Humanity’s Veterans Village. Averaging about $110,000, the idyllic, porch-front homes are aimed at providing quality affordable housing to low-income veterans and their widows in Lake and Sumter counties, where 45,000 military veterans reside.
But even as Habitat helps veterans become homeowners in the community off State Road 19, a state task force is recommending that more public dollars be put instead toward rentals for the thousands of people, including non-veterans, affected by the housing crisis.
For many organizations, the check you write, the cash you donate, or the credit card you charge is the last you see of those funds. However, we don’t want you feeling like your donations are sent to a mysterious account with unknown results; to help ensure that doesn’t happen, we provide an annual Impact Report that details the work we’ve done and how your contributions have been put to use in the community. With various initiatives and passions among our partner base, we know it’s a reassuring and rewarding feeling knowing that your desire to help a certain program has measurable and tangible results!
Read over our report and take a look at the last year of progress, and remember that all those lives affected have been due to your continued support; on behalf of your Hometown Habitat and the homeowners we serve, thank you!
Upcoming Home Dedication:
You’re invited to join us in welcoming our newest Habitat Homeowner, Jessica, to her home!
When: Saturday, January 20 from 9AM – 10AM
RSVP: 352-483-0434 Ext. 118; firstname.lastname@example.org
Curtis was one of the first Homeowners we served through our Veterans Housing Initiative. His story is moving, and continually reminds us of the importance of a safe home.
Noah and Carol Lundy began their journey with Habitat in January 2012. After being engaged in volunteer work and participating in financial classes with Habitat, they purchased a 3-bedroom, 2 bath home in Eustis with a private fenced yard, which was just what they needed since gaining custody in 2011 of their two nieces, Ariel and Tapanga.
They later adopted the girls in March 2013.
“One of the most exciting things about buying the home from Habitat was like putting money in the bank, so to speak, due to the payments being low enough,” Noah says. “We paid more each month, thus increasing the equity, which was exciting itself!”
UMATILLA — Reed and Michele Vonhold stood in the kitchen of their soon-to-be new home in Umatilla on Monday and were already planning family get-togethers.
“Thanksgiving at our house this year now that I have my own, and big enough, kitchen,” Michele Vonhold excitedly announced to her son, father and brothers.
The Vonholds then walked through the rest of the house, talking about the placement of furniture and decorations.
“This is a dream come true,” Reed said.
- In June we will be dedicating the homes for our first set of homeowners and celebrating them! We hope you can join us.
- In late June we will be laying the foundation for the next four homes.
- We will be finalizing the Master Plan and all the floors plans by our last round of building in December.
Interested in coming out for a tour?
Give Danielle a call 352-630-3318
Want to come out and volunteer?
Give Carlos a call 352-483-0434 Ext 119
A house is just a place…until a family makes it a home. At Habitat our families are center – they are the reason we build… But the bricks and mortar are just the beginning. As the family moves into their new home they will learn, grow, and make memories in that home. I wish each and every volunteer, donor, and staff could have the opportunity to hear our homeowners stories and see the difference this chance makes for some folks. But since that isn’t the case, we will do our best to share the little snippets of love and hope that our homeowners feel as they come along.
Thanks for all you do –
Your Habitat Family
Habitat of Lake-Sumter is so grateful to have been a recipient of this year’s award through Publix Super Market Charities. The generosity of Publix will fund over 25 preservation and repair projects throughout Lake and Sumter Counties this year.
Over the years, Publix associates have generously volunteered to assist with building homes. Recently, the Publix Serves initiative has helped associates devote time to making a difference, and many have spent Publix Serves Day performing tasks such as painting, carpentry, and landscaping in order to support local affiliates in their communities.
For two young boys and their mother, today’s warmest Christmas gift has been simmering for months.
It started with a chance encounter.
It fostered because of a community that cares, including a club of Villagers who have made compassionate acts a habit and a hometown bank full of employees willing to help anyone, but soon realizing it was someone they knew well.
A Lake County mom and her three children will finally have a home for the holidays.
- 3rd new home in Lake County built by Habitat for Humanity
- Home in Eustis went to mother of three
- Next home dedication will be in Lady Lake
On Thursday, December 15th at 8:00am, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter will be hosting a ceremony to celebrate the completion the Eisinger Family’s new home in Eustis. The celebration will be an opportunity to view the finished home, meet the Eisinger family, and enjoy light refreshments and good company. Habitat welcomes the public to attend the ceremony – To RSVP or for more details please call Shari Kuck at email@example.com or at 352-483- 0434 Ext 118.
Habitat for Humanity of Lake Sumter has helped families in need of safe and decent housing achieve the American dream since 1989, and now the organization is in the early stages of building Veterans Village and is looking into the future. Constructing a community of micro homes—affordable housing for seniors and millennials—just may be on the horizon.
The restoration of this home means more to us than you will ever know. The structure is more than 60 years old, built by hand by our father. We grew up with love, family and faith in that home. It is more than a house, it is our parents legacy.
No words can ever express how great we feel because of your unselfish and tireless efforts.
– Karen D. Bennett, Dorothy Harris & Thomas Davis
In August our team had the opportunity to partner with Home Depot for a critical preservation and repair project.
Thomas Davis lives in Coleman, FL in a home that had been in the family for over 60 years. This childhood home was a safe space that he cherished dearly – but he needed some help bringing it back to life. Considering his options, he filled out an application to take advantage of Habitat’s repair program. After the Habitat team met with Thomas and visited his home, we started work on preparing to approve his application – we joined forces with Team Depot as the sponsor and volunteer crew for the project to allow us to provide the funding and hands on labor needed to perform the job.
Volunteers yanked down overgrown plants, power-washed away years of dirt and replaced rotted trim boards before they slapped on a new coat of paint at a home in Paisley.
Robert “Sonny” and Beverly McKay were among homeowners on the receiving end of Habitat for Humanity of Lake Sumter’s newest mission — community engagement — aimed at helping low-income seniors, veterans and disabled residents throughout Lake and Sumter County who are unable to maintain their homes.
A handful of volunteers were at the McKay home Wednesday providing some fixer-upper help.
“Mr. McKay is just a super nice guy. He has been a hardworking man his whole life and he just can’t get up on ladders and do what it takes to make a house look nice,” said Ernie Burley, site supervisor.
The McKays were thrilled to have their house painted a cream color with dark brown trim and to get new landscaping.
“They have done just a marvelous job and I’m just really impressed,” Sonny said. “I’m pleased with the way that they have done it and really appreciate it.”
His wife of 52 years is thankful, too.