A convivial crowd gathered under the blazing July sun recently to witness the groundbreaking of an Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity project. The project will provide a new house for Zack and Mindy Cayer and their three children. It also marks the first home-building activity by Habitat’s Upper Valley chapter in approximately a decade.
“Habitat for Humanity helps young families get their first homes and keep their first homes,” said Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity interim president Gerry Botha. Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity is a chapter of the larger international nonprofit.
One aspect that makes the project in Sharon exciting, explained Andrew Gimson, the group’s executive director, is that it’s the first house the organization has designed to meet Efficiency Vermont’s high performance standards.
“So basically, you light a candle and it heats the house,” chuckled Gimson, “It’s extremely tight. No oil, no propane, just electricity and a little heat pump.”
The Cayer Family
During his opening remarks Botha introduced the family slated to live in the completed house, Mindy and Zack Cayer, and their three children Lane, age 5, Henree, age 2, and Wren, 4 months.
“Mindy and Zack got married in 2011, and quite soon thereafter moved to Texas … but unfortunately, about a year later Zack had a very unusual occurrence … he had a stroke,” said Botha.
The Cayers “then found out that their employer did not have health insurance … so they wound up with a huge debt,” said Botha.
Knowing that life changes were afoot, due to their debt and the expectation of their first child, the Cayers decided to come back to their Vermont roots, said Botha. Mindy Cayer had grown up in Bethel, and both had family in the area.
For the past five years, the Cayers have passed through a variety of living situations, from staying with relatives, to housesitting, to living in a trailer on Camp Brook Road, said Botha.
“The biggest hurdle [the Cayers] had to overcome was the debt leftover from the health event in Texas. They’ve worked very hard over the last few years so it’s virtually all paid off,” said Botha.
The family applied for a house through the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity last year, and since then has worked with the organization to reach an agreement for how the project could be completed.
“[Habitat for Humanity] is just great and supportive, and they really care about our family,” said Mindy Cayer.
The Cayers will collaborate with Habitat for Humanity to construct their house, located on an approximately three acre parcel, and Botha noted that Zack Cayer’s previous experience with construction work will help with the family’s contribution of sweat equity towards the house.
Eva Loomis, the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity office manager, noted that as part of the family’s agreement with Habitat for Humanity, they will put 500 hours of work into the house.
“Friends and family of the Cayers can contribute about 200 of those hours, but the other 300 have to be completed by the Cayers,” said Loomis.
The land where the house will be built, along with a neighboring parcel of a similar size, was sold to Habitat for Humanity by part-time Sharon residents Helen and Arthur Pettengill.
“The owners of this land sold us these plots for a very, very reasonable price,” said Botha, “and also gave us a cash donation and helped us finish this road so that we could get [everyone] here today.”
The next step for construction is to lay the foundation, said the design architect, Tim McCosker.
McCosker noted that many area businesses are partnering with Habitat for Humanity to make sure supplies are affordable for the project.
“All the supplies will be new, but we’re getting some really generous discounts,” said McCosker.
“After the foundation is done, we plan to start having workdays with volunteers to do the timber framing in August,” said Loomis.
“We have lots of volunteers to work on the construction site, but we’re still looking for volunteers who would be willing to feed the construction site volunteers.”
State representative and construction site manager Jim Masland said that the goal is to have “the walls up, windows in, roof on,” by the time the cold weather sets in so that work can continue indoors through the winter.
“We’ll hopefully get the siding up maybe by June, and the house could be legally inhabitable before the siding is up,” said Masland.
He noted that Habitat for Humanity will finish the upper floor of the house, which will be the primary living space, but that the lower part of the house, a walkout basement, will be finished by the family on their own.
“Habitat for Humanity generally holds the mortgage for the families, and they’re generally 0% interest,” explained Loomis.
But, in the Cayers’ case, they could be eligible for a loan through a third party, so the system could look a little different for this project, she said.
“We’re so excited for the Cayers to have this opportunity for a home,” said Botha.
“This is the first house [Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity] has built since 2007 or 2008, before [Tropical Storm] Irene,” said Gimson.
“We have built 35 homes since 1986, when this chapter formed,” noted Loomis, “But recently we’ve done more critical repair projects, so it’s exciting to be building again.”
“This chapter of Habitat for Humanity has been pretty dormant in recent years,” declared Gimson, “But we’re back, and we’re building!”
Gimson noted that Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity works closely with the Central Vermont chapter, which broke ground for a new house in Randolph in May.
-- ZOË NEWMARCO