Nov. 9 was an emotional day for Tina Newman.
In July, she and her husband, Rob, were approved for ownership of a new home built by Seneca Habitat for Humanity. The Seneca County Home Builders Association had organized an “extreme build” Nov. 9 to get most of the house enclosed and under roof so interior work could be done during the winter months.
“I was at work yesterday, and I kept having to go to my closet because I’d start crying. It’s very exciting. Joe (Swora) called me and said they were delivering stuff all day long. That got me worked up,” Tina said on building day.
She works at Heidelberg’s Krammes Service Center, and volunteers included about 30 people from the university. A few of Tina’s co-workers showed up. Chaplain Paul Stark said the others came from Alpha Phi Tau, Alpha Phi Omega, the Office of Civic Engagement and Student Affairs. More than a dozen students from the building trades classes at Sentinel Career and Technology Center also put in volunteer time.
Habitat Director Joe Swora was on hand as contractors and other volunteers bustled about the build site. He said the Newmans had come the previous weekend to help with some of the prep work, and the building committee had constructed the foundation, floor supports and decking. The four-bedroom home is to measure about 1,280 square feet and it is designed to be energy efficient.
That Saturday, the couple and their older son, T.J., were out early in the morning to get started. A large tent had breakfast food and coffee available.
“It’s amazing how fast it’s going up.” Tina said.
“Rich Zeis, who serves on the board of directors, was instrumental in getting the SCHB to do this even at this time,” Swora said. “They’ve been working with Jim Reuss, our building committee chairman, who moved heaven and earth to make this thing happen on our end. He and Rick Swartz, Gaylen Kline, Dan Galaba and Jim Robenalt, they’re the ones who really led the charge.”
Zeis lined up construction workers, supplies and equipment. Habitat homeowner and volunteer Ruth Metcalf lined up food donations for meals and people to serve them. Tiffin Bake Shop supplied doughnuts and pastries for the morning, Bailiwicks and Java House provided coffee and Hempy donated bottled water. Sentinel also donated food and beverages and Nancy Howe baked six cakes for dessert.
Area churches that sent contributions and/or volunteers included Bascom United Methodist, St. Joseph, Faith United Methodist, Our Lady of Hope and Truth Baptist.
During a break, Tina recalled the chain of events that led to the building of 258 Third Ave.
Early this year, her sister, Carrie Wilkinson, heard at a United Way meeting that Habitat was searching for partner families. Although Wilkinson now works for Bridge Hospice, she planted the seed that started the process.
“My sister was working for Community Hospice and she kept telling me I needed to go apply,” Tina said.
Habitat volunteers were finishing the home of Challie Briihl, owner of last summer’s first Extreme Build, but they
could not begin another project without a qualified owner to determine the size of the dwelling.
Having applied for other assistance programs, the Newmans had been rejected many times because their income was too high or too low, depending on the program. Wilkinson was persistent, so Tina decided to talk to Swora and get an application. Once she was disqualified, maybe Carrie’s pressure would stop. After Tina completed the paperwork, Habitat ran a credit report and checked the family’s qualifications.
“I got this paper and my heart dropped to my toes. … then I opened up the paper and it tells you recommendations, like what you need to do,” Tina said. “I went racing down there and it was Memorial Day.”
The suggestions listed had already been taken care of. The family only needed to produce the documents to prove it. If they did so within six months, they could be eligible for a home.
Tina gathered what was needed and took everything to the Habitat office.
Next, the selection committee came to the Newmans’ current residence and interviewed them. Without naming the family, the committee met with the Habitat board and presented their findings.
A few days later, someone knocked on the door at the Newman residence. It was almost dark when Tina’s daughter called her to the door. Swora and another board member had come over after the meeting to deliver the news in person.
Tossing on something presentable, Tina came down to the living room.
“I flipped on the light and there stood Joe and Charlene Watkins. My eyes were big as saucers. I said ‘What? What? Is it a ‘no’?’ They said ‘Congratulations. You were approved.'” Tina said.
The family will stay in the home they have been renting for several years until they can close on the new place.
Tina said the older home needs new windows and and other repairs. Swora pointed out their mortgage payments are expected to be considerably lower than their monthly rent and the family’s utilities should be lower in the all-electric, energy-efficient home.
“It’ll be nice not having a gas bill, either. Gas keeps going up all the time. Electric goes up, but it’s so well insulated, they say once it gets to the temperature, it hardly runs to keep it at that temperature,” Rob said.
Swora said the Newmans already have completed some of their “sweat equity,” and they will have more opportunities as the project progresses. Rob has some building experience from a previous job in maintenance. Now, his older son, T.J., also is getting some experience to put on his resume while helping to construct his parents’ home.
A few years ago, Rob actually worked on another Habitat home in the neighborhood.
“I was in the Reserves with the Seabees, and we came down for one of their projects on First Avenue. … I learned a little bit then and a little more now,” Rob said.
The opportunity to own a home “means everything,” Rob said.
His daughter and younger son will have their own bedrooms. A Heidelberg student, T.J. probably won’t live in the house, but he called the project “exciting.” Rob and Tina have met some of their future neighbors, including a Webster Manufacturing co-worker of Rob’s who lives on the other side of Third Avenue.
The Newmans have obtained some ideas from the other home owners. They are looking forward to new appliances (donated by Whirlpool Corp.) and a more spacious kitchen.
“We have a small counter space right now and everything’s so small we don’t really have that much room in the cabinets and that. Every time we open the cabinet doors, bowls come falling out. We cram everything in there,” Rob said.
The new house also will have more electrical outlets, installed by Sentinel students. The couple will need to choose the color of the exterior siding so it can be ordered.
Tina said she wants it to stand out.
“It’s going to be different than the others. … It’s not going to be brown,” Rob said.
“They are going to have to choose the woodwork, the countertops and backsplash, white or black appliances and the flooring,” Swora added.
The time for talk ended and the three Newmans went back to work. Swora said he was pleased to be doing a second one-day construction blitz with a bit less “pageantry.”
He said Briihl, who lives in the first extreme-build next door, also had strong emotions the day her home was rising before her eyes.
“I remember when we did that in July 2012, they were getting the wall sheeting up, and she started crying,” Swora said. “This one is happening later because we didn’t actually get the Newmans approved as a family until July.”
Warming up with some coffee, Zeis paused to offer his own remarks. His company and Clouse and Tom Daniel Construction were the three contractors working that day. He only had about three weeks to get everything in place.
“We’re really pleased with the turnout,” Zeis said. “We’re about 30 minutes different than last year’s schedule. …We’ll slow down a little bit on this house because its a different style roof. It’s a hip roof, which will take a little bit longer.”
As it turned out, Zeis was right about the need for more time to seat the roof trusses. Darkness fell on an incomplete shell of the home. Swora said many of the builders left after lunch and maneuvering large sheets of materials in the wind also caused delays.
“Everybody this time of year is so busy to try to work this in. We didn’t think we’d have enough help. Of course, we have another family already for next year, so we couldn’t do two homes next year. We had to push through and get this done,” Zeis said.
Another partner family already has been approved, so Swora expects Habitat to blitz-build a third house in July. He said spectators are welcome to stop over, watch and learn more about Habitat. Volunteers are always needed for the Saturday building sessions and donations of cash and materials are always appreciated.