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Douglas County Habitat for Humanity hosts 16th annual Hard Hat Events honoring 25 years of home building

With a slight drizzle, the Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County's "Home Run Lunch" Hard Hat Event shed light on the 25 years of service provided to community members needing a home.

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Habitat homeowner Jenna Hill, right, shares her positive experiences of working with Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County alongside her mentor Greta Siegel at the 16th annual Hard Hat Events Home Run Lunch on Wednesday, June 15.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — With boxed lunches provided by Broadway Ballroom and "swag bags" decorated by local pre-schoolers in hand, nearly 300 attendees filled the stands at Knute Nelson Memorial Field in anticipation of Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County's 16th annual Hard Hat Events "Home Run Lunch" celebrating 25 years of community home building on Wednesday, June 6.

With teary eyes and a cracking voice, the newest habitat homeowner, Jenna Hill, accompanied by her mentor Gretta Siegel, shared her experience.

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Nearly 300 people attended Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County's Hard Hat Events Home Run Lunch on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

"My name is Jenna, and I am proud to say I am a Habitat homeowner," she began. "I am a single mom of two. My children are my life. They are my world... I want them to know they are loved, that they are important, and I will always be their biggest supporter, their loudest fan and always put my desires aside to give them the life they deserve... My children are the reason I applied for Habitat. I wanted a place for them to call home, a place they are proud to call home, a place they can have their friends come over and not feel ashamed."

She said her son and daughter are "loving their new home."

"They feel safe. They feel happy. They are blessed to have a home," Hill said.

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After being denied on her first application attempt, she eventually applied again. She said she remembered painting in the basement when she got the call. She dropped her paint brush and ran upstairs, happy tears already welling.

Over the months, she completed 300 sweat equity hours of the required 200, and on April 28 of this year, Hill closed on her home.

Hill said overall, the experience has changed her life. She not only was able to put her family in a home, but she made lifelong connections, especially with her mentor and her family.

"Even if I didn't get approved to buy a house, the support from the Habitat staff, the relationship with my mentor and her family and the experiences I had have been more than enough," said Hill. "I feel fulfilled, cared for, mentored, and I want to give back... it's amazing, life-changing, and it opens doors."

Hill ended by encouraging those in need to apply.

"The worst thing that could happen is that they are told no," she said.

Habitat Board Chair Brooke Zabel opened the event with a welcome message about the organization's mission to "put God's love into action by bringing people together to build homes and hope."

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Habitat Board Chair Brooke Zabel, left, opened the Habitat lunch event on June 15, 2022. Pictured behind Zabel from left, Executive Director Lori Anderson and Co-Founder Bob Loucks.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Executive Director Lori Anderson thanked the thousands of Habitat volunteers while providing statistics on the need for affordable housing in Douglas County. According to Anderson, one in four residents pays more than 30% of their income on housing, surpassing the affordable housing threshold. She also stated that due to building materials price hikes and supply shortages, Habitat will need an extra $25,000 to build each home.

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Nicole Fernholz, executive director of the Alexandria economic development commission, backed what Lori Anderson said by providing more statistics. She said with an 8.3% population growth, Douglas County is the 13th fastest growing county in Minnesota, resulting in more people and fewer homes as more people have moved into the area than moved out. She added that the average annual income of residents — $53,000 — shows they can not afford Douglas Count's median home value of $229,511 with the 30% income rule.

"The bottom line is that we need a variety of houses in our area to ensure we have the houses available for all the different households," said Fernholz. "From an economic point of view, workforce housing isn't just a necessity but a real need for our businesses and community to grow. Community programs like this [Habitat] and community engagement like yours help make that happen. So thank you for being here today and being a part of the solution."

Co-founders Dave Anderson and Bob Loucks spoke of the humble start of the home-building organization in Douglas County. Anderson choked up as he spoke about seeing photos of all the homeowners helped throughout the years. He was privileged to be a part of a build in Vietnam.

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From left, Co-Founders Bob Loucks and Dave Anderson speak on the early years of Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County with Nicole Fernholz, executive director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, and Lori Anderson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Anderson went on to say he was inspired to start a Habitat for Humanity in Douglas County after visiting a Habitat build site in Sioux Falls.

"I thought, 'Why couldn't we do that in Alexandria?'" Anderson said.

Anderson reached out to Habitat of Minnesota, who suggested putting a notice in his church bulletin, so he did.

Loucks said he joined after seeing a flyer in the church bulletin. At first, he was reluctant as he thought he didn't have time to be involved but his wife convinced him to go anyway.

Only three people attended the initial meeting. Anderson, Loucks and John Aponte. Together, the trio worked diligently for more than a year to become a recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization. And on Jan. 31, 1997, they did.

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Twenty-five years later, Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County has helped 131 families and 362 individuals.

"Because of the support, hard work, dedication and vision of thousands of people like you here today, 80 families have new or improved homes," said Zabel. "51 aging in place homeowners can remain safely in their home. And 102 international families have been supported."

Three ways to donate

  • Text DOUGLAS to 26989 to access text-to-give options.
  • Donate by mail – HFH of Douglas County, 1211 N Nokomis NE, Alexandria, MN 56308.
  • Donate by phone – call 320-762-4255.
  • Go to the website  https://hfhdouglascounty.org  and click on DONATE.
Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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