Habitat for Humanity Celebrates

By KATHERINE WILEY

Officials from the Martha's Vineyard chapter of Habitat for Humanity announced this week that they have signed a purchase and sales agreement to buy two acres of land in Edgartown.

The land is located off the West Tisbury Road near Bennett Way and, if all goes as planned, the group hopes to begin constructing two houses there late this spring.

It's apt that this news comes now, since this week also marks the completion of the chapter's first house on the Island.

The group broke ground for the Weeks Lane home last year on March 4, and this Saturday the process will come full circle with the dedication of the two-bedroom home.

The two-story Edgartown home has a full basement, dining and living areas, kitchen space and a full basement. As a bonus, the site comes with a view of Sengekontacket Pond.

Within the next few weeks, the 1,000-square-foot furnished house will really become a home when its recipients, Cindy Sampson and her two sons, Mason and Jeffrey, move in.

With one house done and plans for others taking shape, the Saturday morning ceremony will serve to thank the many volunteers who donated time and materials, and will also give the public a chance to tour the house. The dedication will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Federated Church in Edgartown; all are invited to attend. A bus will transport people to the house after the program.

"I go by the house, I spent the weekend there and I have trouble believing that it's finished. It really is very exciting. It's so desperately needed on the Vineyard. I get really discouraged when I hear of the numbers of good, hard-working people who are having trouble finding housing on the Island," said Ron D'Orio, chairman of the chapter's board of directors.

Habitat for Humanity is a worldwide organization that builds housing for people in financial need. Established in 1976, it has grown to include more than 1,500 affiliates.

With finding housing on the Vineyard now a challenge for even middle-class families, Habitat targets those most in need. "Our income guidelines are serving a segment of the population that, for a family of four, is at an income of $26,000 or below. It really is a different audience than the youth lot programs or other programs on the Island serve," Mr. D'Orio said.

The history of Habitat on the Island dates back to the fall of 1995, when Lillian Moorhead suggested forming a chapter. More than 100 people attended the first meeting in January of 1996, and the group began the complicated process of becoming an affiliate of the organization.

Now that their first house is almost completed - carpet went down this week and final inspections were conducted - the group has the time to look ahead to the future projects.

"We had set as a goal - we're very proud that we're very ahead of our goal - doing one house a year. We had such success with our first house that the board is getting ambitious and is hoping to do two next year," Mr. D'Orio said.

The new Edgartown property, which was signed through Mindoro Real Estate Company Inc. on Feb. 24, might be the site of future homes - if the group can raise the $50,000 it needs within 120 days to complete the purchase.

"You kind of stumble on things. This property became available, and we made an offer on it that was accepted. Now we just need to engage in the process of raising the money. I'm pretty confident, the way people have responded in the past, that they'll come forward," Mr. D'Orio said.

Indeed, throughout its tenure, the group has received generous financial support. Every contribution has helped, from the smallest gift of a dollar to the largest - a $25,000 donation from the Seafarer's Friend.

Beyond financial aid, when the group names people and organizations who have donated supplies and volunteered at the site, the list is pages long.

"I'm encouraged by all the cooperation that people have given throughout the year, both businesses and individuals; both volunteers who volunteer what they do professionally, plus other volunteers who know how to do certain aspects of the work and gave their time," said the Rev. Armen Hanjian, vice chairman of the chapter.

"You name the material or the item, and someone has incredibly reduced their price down to just us paying for the shipping. The numbers speak for themselves; we have a house that is just spectacular and came in at under $50,000," Mr. D'Orio said.

And a large helping hand helped them overcome the most serious obstacles. "I think our biggest challenge here - surprise, surprise - is getting land. The town of Edgartown has been very supportive throughout the process," said Martha Mezger, the chapter's treasurer.

The Weeks Lane site became buildable when three pieces of property were combined. The first was purchased from an estate sale; the chapter purchased two adjacent bits that had been acquired through tax foreclosure from the town of Edgartown.

"First of all, Habitat for Humanity is a fabulous organization, and it's really been our pleasure to work with them," said Arthur Smadbeck an Edgartown selectman. "We did make it possible for them to have the lot, and I think that the town hopefully has been as helpful as possible. One of the big issues facing Martha's Vineyard today is affordable housing. Habitat for Humanity hits that squarely and addresses that issue. Anything that we can do to help them, helps us."

As with anything, deciding to aid the organization required some discussion. "We were approached by Habitat to help them find a lot in Edgartown that they could build on. It wasn't an easy decision," Mr. Smadbeck said.

The main issue was that the town has been trying to distribute land through its resident homesite committee. But the selectmen and members of the resident homesite committee eventually agreed that they should help. "We felt that some of the concerns about turning over a lot to Habitat really were outweighed by the need to support Habitat," Mr. Smadbeck said.

Along with the Weeks Lane site, Habitat is in the process of acquiring another building lot from the town of Edgartown on South 12th street.

With one house completed, Habitat officials will approach the next projects, whatever or wherever they may be, armed with experience.

"The chief thing we've learned is that everything always takes longer than you think it could possibly take. Perhaps what keeps us all going is the wonderful response that we get when we appeal for help, be it financial or in the form of work on the project," said Mary Miller, the chairman of site selection. "When we actually got this house going, the response of the tradespeople and businesses on the Island in terms of donating their skills and materials has been astounding."

They also learned more about the depth of the need.

"When we did the search last time, there were over 20 families who applied and, quite frankly, it could have gone in a lot of different directions quite easily," Mr. D'Orio said. "There were just so many people that we would have all been pleased in terms of selecting. The family we did select has two school-aged kids and talk very excitedly about owning a bicycle." The family selection, a major component of the process, generally takes between four and six months.

But for now, officials are planning to enjoy Saturday's event, which will celebrate the work of so many people. "For me the whole exciting thing is this means that Cindy and her two children have a home. I think other people look at it on the broader scope, that we're going to have housing on the Island," Ms. Mezger said. "For me it won't be done until I sit down and have tea with her in her home."

The Island response to Habitat has demonstrated just how giving this community can be.

"It gives you a great sense of what a community's all about. When people take time to really make people's lives a little bit better, then that really is one of the most generous gifts you can give anyone," Mr. D'Orio said.

Habitat welcomes volunteers and donations to help with future projects. Anyone interested can call Habitat at 627-8300.