By Bob Balgemann


MACHESNEY PARK – Habitat for Humanity is an international organization that formed in the 1970s in Americus, Ga. It evolved from a group that decided poverty housing was an issue.

More than 300,000 homes have been built in that time, with 108 of them in the Parks area. The local Habitat for Humanity organization was formed in 1988 and in 2015 plans to build its 109th home, this one at 57 Wilshire Blvd. in Machesney Park.

Ninety-three of those homes were built in southeast Rockford.

“It’s a home-buyer program,” executive director Keri Nelson said Monday morning, April 6. “We don’t just give homes to people.”

She was at the monthly breakfast meeting of the Harlemites, graduates of Harlem High School who have been gathering the first Monday of every month since 1974.

While explaining how the program works, she said participants pay a mortgage and put at least 300 hours of sweat equity into construction of the residence. “That’s the downpayment,” she said of the work they do.

It’s a learning process for some of the families as they pay back their mortgage over a period of time and participate in the closing, so they become familiar with how that works.

“Ninety-nine are paying mortgages right now,” she said. “We use that money to build the next home. So it is a self-sustaining program.”

A typical mortgage is $500 a month, compared with apartment rents that can run $650-$750 per month, she said.

Qualifying criteria

Candidates go through a screening process. “We pull a credit report, and they have to be in good standing,” Nelson explained. A family selection committee will visit the candidates in their homes, to see if they in fact need a safe place to live.

“I was blown away by some of the conditions I saw last year,” she said. Those were her first visits and during that time she heard gunshots ringing out in some neighborhoods.

“One mother said her son knew how to duck,” she recalled.

“This is a support system for these folks,” she said of the Habitat organization. “It gives them a stable environment to live in; it provides safe, decent housing.”

Harlem High School students built an entire house last year and this time around will be joining others from the community in serving as volunteers.

“It’s really a great experience for our students and volunteers,” Nelson said.

She was a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity for 18 years, starting as a college student. “I never had to worry about where I was going to lay my head at night,” she said. “But there are millions who do. I feel called to this ministry. It’s Christ’s work in action.”

Each Habitat house has three bedrooms and one bath, along with a one-car garage. Workers expect to frame the home in May 2 and be finished by Labor Day weekend.

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