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  • Andrew Maciejewski

Returning home: Habitat reunites family (Chronicle-Tribune)

Original Story by Andrew Maciejewski in the Chronicle. Read original story here.

Danny Aguilar is finally coming home.

For four years Danny has driven from Marion to his hometown of Sweetser to visit his mom, dad, grandma and the rest of his family and friends. His mother said he used to walk his children around town so much that the stroller’s wheels fell off.

Once the Habitat for Humanity home is completed in early fall, his two children, Cameron and Braelynn, will be blocks away from their entire family. In just several months, the family will be reunited.

“It’s a little overwhelming. It’s a lot,” Danny said at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday. “I think everything happens for a reason and everything takes time. It was meant to be. I’m very excited to get back into Sweetser, very excited to have a house big enough for the kids and I but more importantly to be back in Sweetser.”

He said finances have always held him back from being where he wants to be: with family.

“The plan has always been to get back to Sweetser. I don’t have any credit, not bad or good credit – I just don’t have any credit,” he explained. “I can save up as much as I can to live. The plan was always to get a house in Sweetser, but (the homes) go so quick. When houses come up for sale in Sweetser, they go like that. I was never in a position to do that.”

In order to move in, Danny and his family will need to get over a series of hurdles that will help him throughout the rest of his life living in Sweetser.

Habitat for Humanity of Grant County President Mia Erickson said there are three steps.

“They have to go through a pretty lengthy process to be eligible as a habitat partner,” Erickson explained. “The stories you hear are pretty moving, their journey as far as how they got here. They ultimately get to have their own home, and most of the people in the program never thought they would ever get to own their own home, especially being able to be in a safe, affordable home.”

Applicants must show that they have the ability to pay the mortgage, Erickson said. They have to put at least a downpayment of 1 percent, she continued, and they have to show that they have a need for housing.

Next comes the sweat equity hours, which is where the family will work alongside volunteers to build the home. They must meet a certain threshold of hours, and part of that process is completing a financial education curriculum.

“We say it’s a hand up, not a hand out,” Erickson said.

Erickson has been doing this for a long time, and she said the reaction from people who’ve completed the program is always positive. In a follow-up interview with a longtime Habitat family, Erickson said one woman was blown away by how it transformed her life.

She said before I moved in, ‘I didn’t know how to budget. I didn’t know what home maintenance was. Now my friends and family come to me and they want me to teach them how to budget, how they can get their own home on their own or through habitat,’” Erickson said. “That means that we’ve done our job.”

This will be the 54th home Habitat has built in Grant County, and Erickson said it’s all possible thanks to hardworking volunteers.

“It’s a great organization. If you’d like to get involved, whether it’s volunteerism or a financial contribution, this would not be possible without both of those,” she said. “We greatly appreciate the support of the community.”

Right now, the project has about 200 volunteers signed up, but Erickson said they still need to fill two day’s worth of volunteer slots, adding that it’s not possible to have too much help.

“We would love to be in a situation where we have too many volunteers... We are sure that those two days will get filled, but with habitat, it’s not just about construction. If anyone is ever willing to volunteer in any way, they should call us,” she said. “We have many different ways to help out. We have office administration. We have serving lunch on the job site. We have plenty of opportunities.”

The organization is also always searching for sites to build a new home, and the company gains land through donations as well.

At the end of the day, Danny said he felt very supported.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity and this blessing for me and my kids,” he said.

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