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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2018:05:11 05:50:07

STAFF PHOTO/C.J. MARSHALL Chris Turrell, right, gives the keys to a new house to Taiah O’Neill, age 19 months, during a ceremony held by Habitat for Humanity. Habitat built the house for Taiah’s parents, Jared O’Neill and Tina Swingle, which arranged for them to purchase the residence in Mehoopany Township via volunteer labor and an interest-free loan.

Thanks to the generous efforts of Endless Mountains Habitat for Humanity, Tina Swingle and Jared O’Neill recently took possession of their first house.

The couple were presented the keys to their new home on Russell Road in Mehoopany Township on Friday by Chris Turrell, president of Habitat for Humanities’ board of directors. Turrell and other Habitat volunteers held a ceremony, welcoming Swingle and O’Neill to their new residence - a three bedroom single story ranch house with basement.

According to a presentation made by Habitat volunteer Dottie Ashmore, the concept of Habitat for Humanity started on Koinonia Farm, a community farm located near Americus, Ga. The farm was founded by farmer and Biblical scholar Clarence Jordan, who eventually went into partnership with Millard and Linda Fuller.

Jordan and the Fuller’s developed a concept of ‘partnership housing,’ to provide decent housing to those who otherwise could not afford it, Ashmore said. After Jordan died, the Fullers took the plan even further, putting together a program which constructed houses at no profit, and allowing people to purchase them through no-interest loans.

The first houses built by Habitat for Humanity were concrete block homes. They were usually provided to African-American families in the area, many of whom were living in shacks with no electricity or running water.

Through the years, Habitat for Humanity has provided decent housing not only throughout the U.S., but many other parts of the world as well.

“Thanks in no small part of the person involved of U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, and the awareness they have raised, Habitat now works in 1,400 communities across the U.S. and in nearly 70 countries and has helped 6.8 million people achieve strength, stability, and independence through safe, decent and affordable shelter,” Ashmore explained.

Turrell praised the efforts of the volunteers who worked on the new house - including Dottie Ashmore and her husband George, John Voda, Mike Lloyd, and Lew Hopfer.

During the ceremony, Turrell announced that Hopfer was named Volunteer of the Year by the group, and presented him with a plaque.

“If you were referring to this as a baseball team, Lew would be a utility player,” Turrell explained. “He can play anything - first base, short stop, center field. Where ever a job needs to be done, he can do it.”

Hopfer, who is retired from Procter and Gamble, said he learned some of his skills from his father, a carpenter. This is Hopfer’s eighth house he’s worked on for Habitat for Humanity, which has helped him develop building skills in other areas.

“The list goes on and on and on,” he said. “I like doing it because it helps me keep up with the new building codes.

Turrell emphasized that although the construction is performed strictly on a volunteer basis, many of the volunteers are retired professional builders who bring their expertise to the projects.

George Ashmore, who was the construction leader, said that Habit for Humanity also requires those who will eventually take possession of the house to perform at least 200 hours of ‘sweat equity’ on the project.

O’Neill confirmed that he spent a great deal of time with others on the house as it was constructed - working on every part except the roof.

Turrell said that meeting Habitat’s guidelines for a house is a demanding process. They have six to eight applicants each year, and not everyone meets the qualifications. A previous application made by Swingle and O’Neill was turned down, he said, but this year they were accepted.

“One of my kids brought the information home from school, so we decided to apply for it,” Swingle said, explaining they have four children from age 13 years to 19 months.

This is the couple’s first house. Swingle said they qualified for a $117,000 mortgage, but something at that price would require some repair work.

“We could never have afforded something as nice as this,” she said.

“It’s a dream come true,” said O’Neill. “It actually feels very surreal. When the opportunity came along we couldn’t pass it up.”

O’Neill said they will be moving into their new home within the next two weeks.