Helping hands bring hope to families in need

Meghan Gauriloff

For Chris Popadich, it’s God’s will.

For Eli Konwest, it’s the people.

For Miranda Clark, it’s a house she can call her own.

For every person, Habitat for Humanity means something different.

According to the Low Income Housing Information Service, there are three main reasons for the affordable housing crisis in America: the rise in home construction costs, the decrease in wages and the loss of millions of affordable apartments during the past 20 years.

Habitat for Humanity and its affiliates attempt to improve these statistics by working with partner families to provide decent and affordable houses for those who qualify.

The Organization

An affiliate of the national organization, Habitat for Humanity of Portage County is independent and locally run. Since 1988, the organization has built or renovated 43 houses throughout Portage County.

This year, the organization exceeded the previous goal by building or renovating six houses, said Mary Shaffer, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Portage County.

“We have achieved a lot of goals we set out to do,” she said. “By 2010, we want to get to 10 houses per year.”

Two houses the organization are currently building are part of a Habitat neighborhood on Hillcrest Road in Atwater.

Habitat for Humanity of Portage County purchased 20 lots in this neighborhood because it received a good price. Shaffer said it is becoming more difficult to build new homes due to the increasing costs.

“This was unique to have this special opportunity to have an area of Habitat houses,” she said. “I was out there recently for a site blessing, and to me it was just a wow to be able to see low-income families have such a nice neighborhood.”

In 2007, Habitat for Humanity of Portage County will build its 50th home.

“We’re trying to have the community sponsor the house,” said Shaffer, who has also been a volunteer and supporter of Habitat for Humanity for 12 years. “It’s really going to be a nice celebration.”

The Volunteers

Even though Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization, it encourages all races, backgrounds and religions to get involved to build houses together with the partner families in need.

“When you volunteer for Habitat, you not only gain a sense of pride for your community, you also gain skills, whether they’re construction skills or people skills,” Shaffer said. “When you have opportunities for yourself, its good to help those who don’t have the same ones.”

Senior anthropology major Eli Konwest began volunteering for Kent State’s Habitat for Humanity at the end of her freshman year and is the co-president of the organization.

“I always volunteered in the past for various organizations,” she said. “Then I went to a Habitat meeting, and I realized all the good stuff they do, not just building houses.”

Even though Konwest is not able to make it to the work sites this semester, she is still involved by helping organize events for Kent State’s chapter including its summer trip to Murfreesboro, Tenn., where a group of Habitat volunteers will be working on eight houses.

“It’s a big project,” she said. “We’re really excited about it.”

Campus minister Chris Popadich came to Kent State in the Fall of 2004, and part of his job description was to get involved with the students, so he began to work with Kent State’s Habitat for Humanity.

“I knew how to swing a hammer, and that’s about all I could handle at first,” he joked.

Popadich said he likes working with Habitat because he is able to use the gifts God has given him.

“I thoroughly enjoy it – both aspects: my hands getting dirty and the relationship aspect of getting to know the volunteers and the families,” he said. “It’s not only giving them a place to live, but it gives them a home.”

The Families

As a whole, Habitat for Humanity has built more than 200,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1,000,000 people with affordable housing, Shaffer said.

In order for families to qualify for a home sold to them at no profit and with no interest, they must have the income requirement, and they must show a need for housing.

A family must have lived in Portage County for at least one year, and they must have a total income of at least $13,000 a year but not more than 60 percent of the Portage County median family income, according to Habitat for Humanity of Portage County’s Web site.

“This program is geared to low-income families,” Shaffer said. “That’s what makes Habitat unique is that we provide home ownership at an affordable level.”

Families must also show their willingness to become a partner family by doing 25 hours of volunteer work for Habitat before starting on their own home, which will count toward the total sweat equity that must be completed.

Sweat equity is the assistance homeowners must complete in building their own homes and the homes of others, according to Habitat for Humanity of Portage County’s Web site.

For a one-parent family, the homeowner must complete 250 hours, and for a two-parent family, they must complete 500 hours.

To Miranda Clark, 24, all of this means living in her own home with her two daughters.

“I never thought of doing something like this so young,” she said. “My mom was a big help. She really pushed me into this saying it was a really good program.”

Clark, whose first application was denied due to not enough income, was approved for a loan last year.

Every Saturday, Clark can be found in Atwater at the location where her home is currently being built. Whether she is working on her own home or the home of her neighbors, who are also in the process of building their Habitat home, Clark is doing whatever she can to help.

“I have to be here every Saturday, even if I just pick up scraps,” she said. “You need to start somewhere.”

For more information about Habitat for Humanity and ways to volunteer in the future and during National Volunteer Week, April 23 to 29, visit or call the office in Ravenna at 330-296-2880.

Contact social services reporter Meghan Gauriloff at