UVHFH Celebrates its 30th Christmas

Of the 33 homes for local families that Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity has built over its 30 years of service in the Upper Valley, at least two of them were finished just in the knick of time for Christmas.

Both of these happen to be in Hartland, Vermont—one where the family has lived for 17 years and one where the family is just about to reach their first year mark in their new home.

One homeowner, who, with her husband, brought up five children in their Habitat home, said, “It’s hard to describe what it meant to me…and what the house meant to all of us. It’s easy to sympathize with other people’s difficult situations, but until you’ve actually lived it, there’s no way to fully understand a life lived in poverty.”

“After years of hardship,” she continued, “suddenly -- here I was with a new home. I will never forget coming home from work for the first time that Christmas Eve, to see a cozy kitchen with a real stove and beautiful cabinets and running water. My mother and my sister had all my dishes unpacked and my few knick-knacks artfully arranged—and the living room was overwhelmed by the huge Christmas tree that my husband and the kids had decorated while I was at work, and my knees almost buckled: I finally allowed myself to feel hope, for the first time in a very long time.”

That was seventeen years ago. Last Christmas, Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity (UVHFH) completed a home on a beautiful wooded site for a family who had experienced the terribly tragic loss of their mother. The eldest daughter, a very young woman indeed, took on the responsibility of caring for her siblings. This strong family, too, came home for the first time to a lit-up Christmas tree and warmth all around them, with the family all together in one beautiful place.

They report that, in just one year, they have experienced a stability and sense of future possibilities they never thought they they could ever again have without their mom. A year after moving into their Habitat home, two of the siblings will be going off to college in the fall; the young woman who heads the household received a managerial promotion at her job, and the youngest ones are doing very well and growing up in a safe, secure environment. When asked about what their Habitat experience had been like for them, one of the boys choked up a bit--“It’s good to be home.”

Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity was incorporated on July 1, 1986, and founded by a Mennonite group from Taftsville, Vermont. In this span of time, in 30 years, UVHFH has built 33 homes for families previously living in substandard housing in towns all along the Upper Connecticut River Valley in both New Hampshire and Vermont. After the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene, UVHFH expanded its services to include critical home repair that allowed residents to re-coup their homes and live in them safely.

Now mid-way through this 30th Anniversary milestone year, Upper Valley Habitat is looking to the future and planning new ways to meet the many challenges facing low-income families in the area. Habitat families can be characterized as hard-working folks who just need a helping hand to move up to make their dream of affordable homeownership come true.

What many people don’t know is that UVHFH provides opportunities for qualified families to own their own home for a small fraction of what they may be paying in local rents. Rents in this area rival those of Boston and other big cities, but the salary levels are not nearly as high.

In general, to qualify for Habitat homeownership, a family must meet an income level of approximately $30,000 to $55,000 a year depending on family size. They must have lived in the Upper Valley for at least a year, and be currently living in inadequate housing. They also agree to partner with Habitat on building their own home, alongside the organization’s volunteers and skilled builders. There are many ways for a family to fulfill this obligation. There are also many opportunities for volunteers, and working on a Habitat home is known to be a gratifying experience suitable for men and women of all skill levels.

UVHFH is currently seeking to qualify families for future home construction projects in Woodstock, White River Junction and Wilder, VT, and in Lebanon, NH. There is also an opportunity to purchase an existing home in Lebanon. Pre-qualifying applications may be obtained by calling 802.295.1854 or emailing office@uppervalleyhabitat.org. Applications and further information may also be requested by mail: UVHFH, PO Box 1038, WRJ, VT 05001.

Executive Director Heather Steliga said, “Our vision is a world in which everyone has a decent place to live. We provide opportunities for affordable homeownership for local families regardless of religion, race, or any other artificial category that divides people. We recognize the human race, and we are here to add benefit to the world one family at a time.” She added, “What makes smile through tears is when I hear from a family about the amazing impact that owning a Habitat home has had on their lives. And that goes on for generations. It’s one step closer toward a better world.”

Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity has a small office in the Gates-Briggs Building on Main Street in White River Junction, VT, and a satellite office in the Northeast Kingdom in downtown St. Johnsbury.

Current projects include a major neighborhood revitalization program in Claremont, NH, covering an area of approximately 400 dwellings. This ongoing, multi-year project aims to elevate the quality of life for all residents in the area, while performing critical and other repairs that the family cannot afford to do themselves. A leadership neighborhood group is being formed at the present time to ensure the sustainability of the project into the future.

Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity is an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization. Funding for its projects comes from individual donors, foundations, and government housing agencies.

In honor of its 30th Anniversary, Upper Valley Habitat has launched its “Another 30 Years” sustainability campaign. A genrous anonymous donor has promised to match donations of $30 made by people who have not donated to UVHFH before, meaning that a first gift of $30 becomes $60 and goes twice as far toward helping families in our communities to gain adequate shelter through affordable homeownership. Checks may be mailed to UVHFH, PO Box 1038, WRJ, VT 05001. There are also many other ways to support the work of Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity, such as Board Membership, volunteering on builds and office projects. More information is available at 802.295.1854, office@uppervalleyhabitat.org, and www.uppervalleyhabitat.org.
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