There’s a very special event planned in Morenci later this month, said Lenawee Habitat for Humanity executive director Bob Dister, and it’s significant in more ways than one.
For Bob, it’s a series of firsts.
At a mortgage burning ceremony Aug. 29, Nancy Alamia will become the first Habitat home owner in Lenawee County to pay off her home mortgage.
Going backward to the groundbreaking in 1996, the Alamia home was the first Habitat project in Morenci and it was Bob’s first involvement with the group, where he worked as a volunteer helping organize the project.
Now, 13 and a half years later, Bob is serving as the director of Habitat and the mortgage burning marks the county’s first completed project, with a Habitat family in full possession of the home.
“In 21 years of Lenawee Habitat for Humanity,” Bob said, “this is the first one to pay off a mortgage.”
Lenawee’s group has built 35 new homes and rehabilitated two homes, leading to home ownership for 67 adults and 149 children.
Bob remembers a conversation with Rev. Evans Bentley who asked about getting affordable housing in the city. Contact was made with Harvey Souder who suggested Habitat.
The ball started rolling.
Bob organized the first Labor Day Bridge Walk over Silver Creek, and for the first two years, the event raised funds for a Habitat project.
A notice was published in the Observer, seeking people interested in obtaining a home. Bob, the owner of Little People’s Place child care center, mentioned it to Nancy Alamia one day when she came to pick up her boys from child care. As a renter, she liked the idea of home ownership and she was chosen as the community’s first Habitat family.
The project soon became a community-wide effort.
Bob organized the project and V.C. “Tom” Valentine stepped in as construction supervisor. When Bob’s sister was hospitalized with an illness, Rev. Bruce Banks stepped in to fill the gap.
The Alamias moved in on a February day in 1997. Thirteen years later, the house is theirs.
“It hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” Nancy said about the end of mortgage payments. “It probably will at the burning.”
“I bought a gas fireplace as a treat to myself three years ago.”
With mortgage payments out of the way, she’s thinking of expanding her deck. She would really like to buy some of the adjoining property for construction of a garage.
Nancy was surprised to hear that she’s the first to finish up payments—she even finished a little early—but Bob explained that not everyone is able to make payments as diligently as Nancy. In some cases, there’s been a change in life circumstances and people have moved away.
Nancy was able to stay in place, right where she wanted to be.
“I’m grateful for all the support I received,” she said. “I hope everybody sees it as a positive program. I always wanted to maintain a positive image of the home. It gives you a little more to work to work for with ownership, compared to renting. It also gave me some personal growth.”
She’s reminded of the generosity of others every time she heads into the crawl space to change furnace filters. It’s there that she sees a two by four with the signatures of elementary school students.
A small structure was built and taken to the school as a fund-raiser, she remembers. Kids dropped change into a container and autographed the wood. The boards were later used in the construction of her home. None are visible except for that one board by the furnace.
“A quarter, a dime—a little bit of effort from so many people,” Nancy said. “I wonder if people realize that such a small part of their lives can make a big part of someone else’s life.”
They probably don’t think that “I gave a quarter and look what it’s become now,” she said.
Nancy knows. She represents the closure of Lenawee’s first Habitat success story—successful from start to finish.