Aggie women build homes, hope
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 22, 2012 01:10
Ella Foster, Assistant Supervisor for A&M’s Department of Residence Life, takes care of her five grandchildren in a rental home that is overcrowded and in an unsafe neighborhood.
After applying three times, Foster has now begun constructing her family a new home with the help of Bryan College Station’s Habitat for Humanity and their partner Aggie Women Build.
A component of the international organization, Aggie Women Build holds the same goal as Habitat for Humanity: to provide housing to those in need and to raise awareness of poverty housing. Aggie Women Build focuses on women in the community who need housing help, many of whom are single mothers.
Aggie Women Build was born two years ago, after a conversation between the local Bryan College Station Habitat for Humanity and University President R. Bowen Loftin, who expressed interest in such a cause.
“[Loftin] was extremely interested in the idea because he was looking at ways to support and empower Aggie women,” said Bermudez, a 4th year member of the local Habitat for Humanity’s Board of Directors.
Cherise Klekar, director of Aggie Women Build and sophomore international studies major presented Habitat for Humanity’s “hands-up, not hand-out” motto, exemplified through its $40,000 loan to local needy families.
“It’s a loan, but it’s a 30-year non-interest loan,” said Klekar. “That is one of my favorite things about Habitat. We are freeing them and saying, ‘Here is something that is yours. You will earn this, and you have worked for this.’”
The organization’s homes are built exclusively by volunteers, many of whom are retired professional contractors with are experience on the construction site.
Ms. Foster is the first homeowner sponsored by Aggie Women Build, and as a sponsored homeowner, she is required to do 500 hours of ‘sweat equity.’ That is, she will work with volunteers from Habitat for Humanity to build her home, as well help build other homes through Habitat.
Aggie Women Build has reached out to A&M’s Greek Life this fall to help raise the $40,000 required to build Foster’s house.
Senior Marketing major Kimberley Frey, the Director of Community Service and Philanthropy for Greek Life’s Panhellenic Council, has been in charge of contacting Greek Life’s 13 sorority chapters to help Aggie Women Build in their fundraising.
“We had a meeting with Aggie Women Build, and we setup a goal of between $500 and $1,000,” Frey said. “So far we have raised $750.”
Bermudez clarified that Aggie Women Build does not give out homes for free, though it does provide families with new housing.
“It’s not a free house, and this is the misconception that many people have about Habitat,” Bermudez said. “Yes, we do have a $300,000 sponsorship from the community, but the family pays Habitat for Humanity back for the cost of the house.”
On top of the hours of manual labor devoted toward their new home, homeowners sponsored by Habitat for Humanity are required to take 12 hours of home ownership classes, which cover subjects like budgeting, finances, and home repair.
“From the homeowners I have been around, it’s a rewarding thing for them and they love working with students,” said Klekar. “They can look at something and say, ‘I painted that. I put those shingles on’ ¬– all because they were there building it.”
The house construction takes between two and three months, and Habitat for Humanity encourages the homeowners to make the house their own by choosing features, such as paint color or the color of the wood.
Bermudez said she feels empowered by working with these families,
“The families will often say to me, ‘Thank you so much for what you’re doing.’ I look at them and say, ‘No, you don’t understand. I thank you. It is an honor for me to be able to participate in your life in this way.’ That’s what motivates me, to be able to help a family that is trying to get out of the dire conditions they are living in and work towards a better future.”
Klekar said that despite its progress, Aggie Women Build still has money to raise, and it welcomes the help of any willing individuals or organizations. Current updates about the local Habitat for Humanity and Aggie Women Build can be found on their website www.aggiehabitat.com.