Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of stories that will follow the progress of Habitat for Humanity of Miami and Shelby Counties’ first project in Shelby County.
SIDNEY — When volunteers grab their shovels Sunday, April 2, to dig into the dirt of a vacant lot in Jackson Center, they’ll be doing something that hasn’t been done in Shelby County since 2006.
They’ll be breaking ground for a house to be built by Habitat for Humanity. It will be the first structure built here since Habitat for Humanity of Miami County assumed the Shelby County organization and became Habitat for Humanity of Miami and Shelby Counties in 2015 and the first since the former Shelby County group constructed a home in Jackson Center more than a decade ago.
The new Jackson Center dwelling is being built through monetary donations and volunteerism by Airstream Inc. The groundbreaking ceremony is open to the public and will begin at 107 Birch St., Jackson Center, at 1:30 p.m.
Kara Mullen and her children, Jaden Rice, 15, Delaney Rice, 12, and Sailor Mullen, 2, of Sidney, will own the new house when it is finished. It had not been Mullen’s intent to acquire a home when she first contacted Habitat.
“I had heard through a friend that they were going to do a build in Jackson Center. I thought it would be good for the kids and me to volunteer,” Mullen said. Then, she learned that the organization was looking for a family to take over the dwelling.
An administrative secretary at Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Mullen and her family have been renting a house in Sidney. It never occurred to her that the classic American dream — home ownership — might come true for her.
People who are interested in acquiring Habitat houses must complete detailed applications. They have to prove eligibility and ability to repay a no-interest mortgage. The houses are not gifts. Mullen spent considerable time in applying.
“It took awhile to get together all the documents,” she said. Copies of utility bills, rent receipts, records of current debt, identification records, proof of income and a recommendation letter from her current landlord were required.
“It took three or four weeks for me to gather everything. I had the wrong impression of what Habitat was and what they did. I knew they built houses. You have to meet certain income guidelines. There’s a financial obligation to pay it back — the mortgage, taxes, insurance,” Mullen said. “I was surprised that it was something that would work for my family.”
She turned in the application in May 2016 and in July, Habitat board member Dr. Reece Nickol called to set up a meeting with her. A board member and the chairman of the Family Services Committe, he would be her advocate.
“We look for three things in our candidates,” Nickol said. “We look for somebody who can pay for a house. We look for someone who has the need and we look for someone who will partner with us. The toughest one to decide is the willingness to partner.” What that means is being willing to get some education about homeownership, being willing to learn.
“We don’t want them to fail. If they fail, we fail,” he added.
“We reviewed my finances together. They did a home inspection. I met with the family committee with the kids,” Mullen said. Then, the Mullen/Rice family played a waiting game.
“I was a little anxious,” the young mother said. It was months later, close to Thanksgiving when Nickol phoned to say that her family had been selected.
“I just cried,” Mullen said.
“Yeah, I had to wait awhile until she could talk again,” he said.
“I had to catch my breath. I hung up and then I went in the bathroom and cried a little more. Then I told the kids and we jumped up and down. Then I called my grandparents and my mom. I was excited and yelling in the phone. I was overwhelmed,” Mullen said.
The family has been in their current rental for three years. Having a house that they own will be a life-changer for them.
“It means financial security for our future with predictable payments and no worrying that the landlord will sell the property or change the rent amount. (It) means a home base for my family. We will always have somewhere to call home, somewhere to feel safe and somewhere to make memories together,” Mullen said.
The agreement became official in December and since that time, Mullen has been busy choosing exterior siding, cabinets, counter tops, bathroom vanities and flooring for the 1,300-square-foot home.
The build should be complete in August. Part of the agreement calls for the receiving family to volunteer 400 hours of time to the project, something Habitat calls sweat equity. Mullen has already put in hours loading trucks and cleaning furniture at the Habitat for Humanity Restore in Troy.
“It’s not light labor. It really is sweat,” she said. The organization has required that she take a series of classes offered by the Piqua Compassion Network. Class time also counts toward the volunteer commitment.
“They set a foundation for people who have never been homeowners,” Mullen said.
“(She’ll learn) what to do with a home. Kara is going to (be able) to teach her children that you can do this. You can schedule your life around (taking care of) your home,” Nickol noted.
Through the volunteering, she’s also teaching her children about supporting a community, “leaving a service footprint, which is what people are doing for us,” she said.
When the house is finished, Mullen will be moving home in more ways than one. She grew up in Jackson Center and graduated from Jackson Center High School in 2000. She is eager for the April 2 groundbreaking to arrive. The ceremony will feature remarks by a pastor and village and county officials who will attend.
“I hope I get to do the first shovel,” Mullen said, even if doing so makes her cry again. “Oh yeah, absolutely. Happy tears.”