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Habitat for Humanity program helps veterans by giving them homes, home repairs

By Marian Rizzo, Ocala.com

948 days ago   Article ID# 1518886
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Habitat for Humanity of Marion County

OCALA, FLORIDA (Ocala.com) - Dexter and Maricel "Marty" Smith love to show off their home.

The four-bedroom dwelling — with its gable roof, screened front porch and landscaped yard — satisfied a longtime dream for the couple.

They and their four boys had been living with Marty's sister since they moved to Ocala in 2003, but they wanted a fresh start and a home of their own. They applied with Habitat for Humanity of Marion County and moved into their new home in September 2006.

As veterans of the U.S. Army, the Smiths are among a half-dozen veteran families serving as role models for Habitat's new housing program, Project Patriot. The program began March 1 and will be providing homes or home repairs for area veterans.

Brad Nimmo, president/CEO of the local Habitat branch, is hoping the Smiths' example will attract more veterans into the program.

"A young couple like that, getting out of the service and just getting back on their feet, Habitat is the perfect stepping stone," Nimmo said. "We were able to work with them. They tell the story of why we need to reach out to veterans. They're military proud, so they don't usually ask for help."

The Smiths met at Fort Hood, Texas. Marty served in Desert Storm, and Dexter was sent to Germany. After their discharge in the late 1990s, they struggled to get back on their feet. He is employed at the Marion Juvenile Detention Center, and she works at Walmart.

"You don't forecast the economy falling like it did," Dexter said. "Habitat was a blessing, because if you have a Habitat mortgage, you don't feel the impact. It's zero interest rate."

Project Patriot came to fruition during brainstorming sessions with the Habitat International Veterans Initiative Advisory Committee in Washington, D.C., in February. Nimmo, who serves on the U.S. Veterans Initiative Task Force, said he learned about similar experiments across the nation.

"That's what the national initiative is about, to work on the best practices going on throughout the United States," Nimmo said. "We're finding out what's working and what's not working."

The need for housing for veterans seems to be greater in Marion County than in most communities. There are more than 50,000 veterans living here, Nimmo said. Most of the referrals for housing will come from Veterans Affairs offices, American Legion units and Veterans Helping Veterans, he said.

Hank Whittier, executive director of Veterans Helping Veterans, plans to partner with Project Patriot as much as possible.

"This is something that's long overdue," he said. "It's needed, and we're excited about it. We're hoping to generate some materials and maybe some labor, as well."

Project Patriot will operate the same as other Habitat projects, but have its own bank account. Projects will range from complete houses to minor home repairs.

WWII Navy veteran Jack Laverty, 88, recently watched as a half-dozen volunteers built a ramp to the front door of his home in Dunnellon. Diagnosed with COPD, Laverty uses portable oxygen and a walker. He said the ramp, equipped with railings, will make life a lot easier.

"It was a very good bunch of men. It was finished that day. They had that thing built in no time flat. I think this organization is great," Laverty said.

Such projects are inexpensive and easy to build, Nimmo said. If a complete house seems like too big a project, he suggested churches and individuals might support something less expensive, such as home repairs. The ramp at Laverty's home cost $200, he said.

"They can come in on a lower level," Nimmo said. "I see us doing more repair and rehab with our veterans, rather than new home construction."

Clients must show need, be able to pay a mortgage and put in 350 hours of sweat equity, but each case is evaluated independently, Nimmo said.

"Everybody contributes in their own way," he said. "Mr. Laverty contributed water and lunch, and he was out there cheering them on. That's the kind of involvement we expect out of someone over 80. We don't expect them to be on the roof."

Those who don't meet the criteria are recommended to other resources.

"We want to make sure any veteran who comes to our office leaves with some kind of solution to their housing problem," Nimmo said.

Copyright 2014 Ocala.com   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 948 days ago   Article ID# 1518886

Habitat for Humanity of Marion County    Visit Website

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