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Not Just "Swinging Hammers"

Financial education, volunteer opportunities, and even cheap retail goods highlight the efforts of the Montgomery County chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity is a well-known international charity that aims to build homes for less-fortunate families, but lesser known are their efforts to instill a sense of financial responsibility and to ensure that their investment pays off for both the family and the community.

Marianne Albanese, who serves as the executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County, prefers to put a quick end to misconceptions about their efforts.

"We don't give homes away," said Albanese. "A lot of folks believe that Habitat does that, but that is incorrect. What we do is provide homes to qualified families at zero percent interest."

Rather than handing out a free home to a family which may be inexperienced in personal finance and budgeting, the organization instead focuses extensively on preparing the prospective family for the burdens and responsibilities of home ownership.

"The family goes through a very stringent qualification process, and our selection criteria is based on three different areas—the need of the family, their financial ability to pay for a mortgage and their willingness to work with us on building their home or other homes," said Albanese.

In addition to the financial preparation, qualified families are expected to play an active role in the construction process, serving between 200-to-400 hours of work which Albanese described as "sweat equity".

In the end, family members and community volunteers build the home, Habitat grants the mortgage, and with a lower cost of construction and proper financial training, the family can afford the home while minimizing the risk of investment.

Additionally, Albanese points to some of the spectacular residual effects of the program.

"The statistics are compelling," said Albanese. "The children's high school graduation rates are twice as high as those children who don't have a safe home, and their college graduation rate is astronomically higher than those families that don't have the privilege of having their own home."

Currently, Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County has been serving the area for more than 20 years, and in that time, they have built 50 homes.

Heading into the new year, the group looks to expand on its service to the community.

"This year we're going to do neighborhood revitalization, where we go into neighborhoods throughout the county—based on census information of where families want to live in our income brackets—and do a combination of a new home construction, home revitalization and home repair, be it weatherization, exterior painting or light landscaping," said Albanese. "We want to impact the whole neighborhood with our initiative."

For residents who already have a home, the Montco Habitat also runs a retail store called "ReStore", which sells new and lightly used items ranging from appliances to electrical and plumbing equipment.

As is the case with all charitable organizations, the impact is dictated by the efforts of volunteers. At face value it may seem like volunteering for Habitat requires specialized construction skills, but Albanese assures that each volunteer can contribute what they already know.

"Volunteers are our greatest allies," said Albanese. "Each person who volunteers will be able to select where they want to contribute. Not everyone needs to swing a hammer."

For more information on Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County click here, or check them out on Facebook and toss them a "like".

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