Building Futures

Habitat for Humanity expands its reach west of Omaha

There are basic aspects of life that all children deserve: a good education, opportunities for development, and a safe, comfortable home to live in. Habitat for Humanity helps more than 40 families each year in North and South Omaha get on the right path to these goals through its homeownership program. And now the organization has extended its reach beyond Omaha.

A home build is currently in progress at the Homes at River Road development in Waterloo, NE. It’s the second home that has been built there, thanks to one of Habitat Omaha’s faith coalitions in the Elkhorn area, which is led by Bethany Lutheran Church whose donation made it possible for Habitat Omaha to purchase the home lot. They were also instrumental in getting the word out to schools in the area so that families could be identified and encouraged to apply.

Cindy Schneckenberger and her two children were one of those families. Although living in Omaha, she had decided to enroll her children in DC West in Waterloo. “I didn’t see a lot of opportunities for them at their previous school,” she said. “I wanted them to attend a smaller school, and we really like it, but we also wanted to be a part of the community and live there.” Unfortunately, Cindy wasn’t yet in a position to qualify to purchase her own home in Waterloo.

Then last spring the school gave her an application for the Waterloo Habitat build. “I had thought owning a home would be in the distant future, so when this opportunity came, it was amazing,” Cindy said. She was one of about 25 applicants that went through Habitat Omaha’s family application process, which according to Faith Engagement Manager Janneane Gerot is based on three aspects: housing need, ability to pay, and willingness to partner.

The Family Selection Committee, made up of independent volunteers, conducts a housing visit to determine need, and steady income must be present so that homeowners are able to pay the no-interest mortgage that Habitat Omaha offers. The willingness to partner requires that homeowners invest “sweat equity” into the build, contributing 350 hours toward the build of their own or another home.

Cindy found out she had been selected in June, and the build began in mid-July. “I was so lucky to be chosen, and the kids are so excited,” she said. Volunteers are at the site weekly, and a number of local companies have been involved, such as Husker Siding Windows and Roofing, which donated the roofing, and insulation donations from Cornhusker Insulation. Other companies, such as 3M in Valley, NE, have sent out work groups to help with the build. “It’s amazing to see people I don’t know give up their entire day to help build my home,” she added.

As an organization, Habitat Omaha has about 11,000 volunteers each year. Gerot said volunteers don’t need previous construction experience or even be handy. Construction supervisors will teach skills on site, such as installing drywall and siding. “We always have a volunteer need and could use more sponsorships to help with the builds,” she said.

The ranch-style three bedroom, one bathroom home in Waterloo is due for completion by mid-November, and Gerot said the faith coalition hopes to have Cindy and her children moved into it by Thanksgiving. Cindy was able to pick out colors for the carpet, countertops, and exterior paint, and although she works full time she spends most of her weekends helping out with the build and has even gotten her children involved. “It’s such a rewarding experience,” she said. “I encourage everyone to volunteer their time because it means so much to the families.”

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