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Hammering it home : Local Habitat makes plans for a home a year

Christmas is going to be a great time for the Alfred and Lily Barnett family.

On Dec. 17, Habitat for Humanity is dedicating its fifth home in Detroit Lakes, the Barnett home, located on the corner of Union Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

"We hope to have them in for Christmas dinner," Habitat President Barb Thomsen said.

Besides helping another family find a permanent residence, Habitat has some exciting news of its own. The organization has decided to begin building a house for a family every year. It had previously been every other year.

Habitat executive director Brian Smith said Habitat has had its struggles in the past, but its come a long way over the last eight years.

"This is a really exciting time for us," he said.

While Habitat has committed to building a house in 2007, board members are hopeful for a grant to help with those costs. They have applied for a grant through Thrivent Builds.

The grant is given to 30 towns in Minnesota. Thrivent plans to give $100 million in four years to Habitat homes.

Detroit Lakes' Habitat will find out in mid-November if it has secured the grant.

Whether it gets the grant or not though, Habitat has decided to build a house a year.

Habitat requires several things for qualifying families. The board decides if the applicants are in great enough need for a new home. If chosen, each adult in the household is required to work 250 hours on building their new home. The family also has to have the ability to pay back the money for the home.

Habitat has been selling the homes for an average of $68,000.

"This is a hand up, not a hand out," Smith said,

In the Barnett's case, Thomsen said, "Al's been there a tremendous amount of hours. Anything you ask them to do, they are willing."

The cost of the house comes from materials and skilled workers that have to be hired, i.e. plumbers, electricians, etc. Once the home is in place and the family begins making payments, those payments fund the next house to be built.

"We are in the best financial position we've been, because the homes we have been paying on and the support of the community," Smith said.

Besides volunteering to build, some of the community's support comes from attending the annual fund-raisers for Habitat -- the spring picnic, Chef's gala, surplus auction and golf scramble.

"They (the events) are really helping us get the word out," Thomsen said. "People have been stepping forward to help."

The board's vice president, Brian Hanson, is in charge of construction. Smith and Thomsen said Hanson is always looking for volunteer groups to help on Saturdays.

Habitat hopes to lane a Thrivent grant to pay for 70 percent of the house and lot, and then the local chapter of Thrivent will fund another 10 percent.

One of the requirements for the grant was for Habitat to prove it is moving forward, hence the houses being built every year now.

"It's no longer once the home starts, fund-raising comes to a halt," Smith said. "We can work on both phases at once."

The Habitat board is accepting applications for the 2007 house. (They are available at, Solutions, area churches, Mahube Community Council or the Food Pantry.)

"The board has realized we could do more than we are," Thomsen said. "To do more, we need more volunteers."

Smith said the group also wanted to step up and build a house every year for consistency.

"When we get done (with a house), now what do I do?" he said.

"There isn't any reason why we can't do a home a year," Thomsen added.

And looking into the future with even bigger plans, Smith said, "I look forward to two homes a year. It's like growing up -- one day, I want to be like that."

With the growth of the Habitat group and its building projects, there is the possibility of a paid staff person in the future, as well.

Anyone willing to donate materials, time or property can contact Habitat online or at 844-5397.

"I don't know how much better it can get that that," Thomsen said of providing homes.