GREENVILLE – Montcalm County Habitat for Humanity is reaching out to veterans in need.
The local chapter is one of only four in Michigan selected to participate in a pilot program launched by Habitat for Humanity International that provides critical home repairs for veterans’ families in the county.
The other Habitat chapters selected to participate in the program are in much denser populated areas of Battle Creek, Detroit and the Flint area in Genesee County.
“I think it’s a really good program and I am very excited, but I was honestly pleasantly surprised,” said Mo Beach, executive director at Montcalm County Habitat for Humanity. “I think this area is often overlooked.”
Only 36 Habitat affiliates in 21 states were chosen to take part in the pilot program, according to Habitat for Humanities International’s official website.
Beach said she believes Montcalm County was chosen over other areas due to the activity of Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts in the county.
“There is a larger than average number of veterans in this area,” Beach said. “The (American Legion) in Stanton is one of the most active in the entire state.”
Beach said improvements or repairs such as wheelchair ramps, roof replacement, furnace replacement or repair and bathroom accessibility would qualify for the new program.
“We’ve done (wheelchair) ramps and roofs in the past,” Beach said. “We feel confident what we’re ready for this pilot program.”
Habitat volunteers provide most of the labor for the jobs at no cost. Veterans only have to pay for materials and volunteer five to 15 hours depending on how significant their project is.
Habitat offers interest-free loans to help pay for materials and any professional labor required that volunteers are not able to perform.
The program began in September and runs through May 31. The program will be reviewed after the trial period and can be reimplemented in July on a three-year basis if successful.
“We thought that this really shows that we are very dedicated with the work we do,” Beach said. “We only have 10 to 12 volunteers and they always find a way to get the job done.”
Beach said one veteran already has contacted the agency.
“He was excited that there was a program out there that could help him do something he cannot do himself without placing the burden on his family,” Beach said.
Montcalm County Habitat for Humanity Construction Manager Bob Johnson said getting veterans to reach out for help is one problem the organization faces.
“I think this new program will do well once the word gets out,” he said. “People are so afraid to ask for help. We’re local people and we’re not going to force someone to do anything.”
Beach said she believe many people are afraid to be turned down for help, but says that’s a fear that Habitat can help will.
“If someone is denied during the application process, we’ll help them get on track to apply for help again within a year,” Beach said. “People want to do things for themselves, whatever the reason. Getting people to say ‘we need some help,’ it’s never easy.”
Johnson, who just attended training for the program in Atlanta, Ga., said the new program shouldn’t interfere with any of the agency’s current projects.
“The program is set up to work in accordance with the rest of our existing projects,” he said. “They should fit together nicely as we currently are not that busy and we didn’t build a home this past year.”
Habitat For Humanity veterans program
Veteran family applications are now being accepted. Qualified candidates must meet the following criteria, which are based on the applicants need, willingness to partner and ability to repay an interest-free loan for the services rendered.
• Qualifying veteran must present proof of their honorable/general discharge.
• The home must be owned or be the primary residence for a veteran and be located in Montcalm County with an active homeowner’s insurance policy.
• The applicant or a designated volunteer from the family must commit to volunteering between 5 and 15 hours of sweat equity based on the project.
• The household must demonstrate an ability to repay an interest-free loan for materials and any paid labor that is required. Most of the labor will be volunteer. An estimated repayment plan will be approved by both Montcalm County Habitat and the applicant prior to approval.
• The applicant must commit to allowing before, during and after photos and to providing a brief biography of the veteran for public relations and promotional purposes for the program.
• Household income may not exceed 60 percent of the area median income.
• Projects must be completed by May 31, 2012.
If you are interested in applying, or would like to refer someone to apply, call Mo Beach at Montcalm County Habitat for Humanity at (616) 754-5772 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.