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Home, sweet home, thanks to Habitat and USDA

Cassandra Braford, proud new homeowner, stood with family and other officials before the grand exposition of her new home in Alexandria. Viewers of the exposition included Colleen Landkamer, USDA Rural Development state director, Adam Czech, public information coordinator for the USDA Rural Development Department, representatives for Collin Peterson and Al Franken, and Steve Hellermann, Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County board president. (Photo by Leah Stinson)

When most people think of the USDA, only farms and meat inspection come to mind. Cassandra Braford of Alexandria is one of the few who knows there's much more to this enterprise.

Braford celebrated the completion of her new home with her two children, Ramsey and Riyada, along with state and local officials Thursday, June 14. The house was completed May 7, and Braford, her children and her mother, Jean, have been living there ever since.

Besides the warm aroma of cookies and the fully furnished basement, what makes this home special is all of the different hands that went into the construction. USDA Rural Development financed the purchase of Braford's home through its direct home loan program, and the house was then built by Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County (HFHDC) and students of Alexandria Technical and Community College.

Steve Hellermann, president of the board of HFHDC, was delighted with the collaboration efforts: "It gave us the opportunity to build a partnership with the ATCC." USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer also added, "Habitat just does such fabulous things for people across the country."

U.S. Representative Collin Peterson, who could not be in attendance, sent a letter of congratulations to Braford and her family. In this letter he noted, "Minnesota USDA does an excellent job managing these projects." U.S. Senator Al Franken sent Lisa Fobbe, field representative, to the celebration. "Although Al couldn't make it," she joked with Ramsey and Riyada, "I'm sure he would make sure to tell you to keep your rooms clean."

Before construction of her house began, Braford had put in more than 200 hours of sweat equity into building other homes with HFHDC. She portrayed her experiences with Habitat as "life changing."

She described her emotions when she first heard she had been approved for a loan: "It was such a sense of empowerment. I was so excited to be able to call something my own." She plans to partake in a women's build this summer; her team name is "Cassie's Lassies."

Troy Rupp, overseer of the ATCC students, felt pleased that HFHDC and ATCC could "work as one." Rupp added, "That doesn't happen very often in this day and age. Hopefully we can do it again in the future."

When asked if she thought the build affected the ATCC students, Braford said, "I hope it opened their eyes to building a home and not just a house, because that's what they did for me."

It's not hard to foresee years of happiness and gratitude as a delighted Ramsey proudly displayed his room, equipped with bunk beds. As Braford eagerly led a tour through her home, she humbly noted, "I am extremely grateful."