Former Plainfield resident Sandy Saunders became the newest Bridgewater resident Wednesday as her home, built through the Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity, was dedicated on Dutch Lane in Bridgewater in a special ceremony.
“This is the dedication of our seventh home in this area,” said Nancy Asbury, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity. “This home was an orphan because it didn’t have one sponsor, but it symbolizes what the heart of habitat is about because it was funded by individual groups, corporate companies, builders and others.”
After a ceremony at the Dutch Lane house that included cutting the ribbon outside the house, the presentation of the keys by Bridgewater Township Mayor Patricia Flannery and the giving of several gifts, Saunders led her children—9-year-old Nymirah and 4-year-old Nekkhi with 19-year-old Nyasia away at college—into the home that she helped build.
Part of the process to receive a home through Habitat for Humanity, Saunders said, is to put in 250 “sweat hours,” working on building either one's own home or others being constructed at the same time.
“I only worked about five of my hours on my house, and the rest was on other houses,” she said. “And it was not just easy labor, there was insulation, siding—it’s a process.”
“But to me, working on it helps me know I have something in the end,” she added.
For Saunders, this has been an overwhelming process to get the house completed and built. But through issues that threatened to derail the project, she said, she kept doing whatever she could to make it work.
“It has been a long process,” she said. “We had some problems in between, but it is a great feeling to actually have my own home.”
Saunders said that at one point she wrote a letter to Gov. Chris Christie because she found herself a little higher than the median income required to qualify for Habitat for Humanity.
“They are usually for low income, and I went a little over once,” she said.
But it has been a long time coming to have a home to call her own, Saunders said. Currently working two jobs—in billing at a doctor’s office and part time at a hospital—she recently earned her Associate’s Degree in criminal justice and is beginning work on her Bachelor’s Degree in the same subject.
Saunders said she eventually wants to work in probation or another similar career.
And for four years, Saunders said, she lived in an apartment in Piscataway before moving in with her mother—who also lives in a Habitat for Humanity-built house—about a year ago when she was chosen to get a house of her own.
“My friend got a house in 2007, and she said I should apply,” she said. “I never thought I should apply, but was told I was a candidate.”
“And the apartment in Piscataway got to be expensive,” she added.
When she learned she was a candidate for Habitat for Humanity, Saunders said, she declined to renew her lease in Piscataway.
Now she is hoping to turn her life around, starting first with a change in her job situation.
“Once I finish my degree, I will switch to not working two jobs,” she said. “That’s my goal.”
Among those helping to finish the Saunders house—along with several others in the same community through Habitat for Humanity—were volunteers from the Bonnie Brae School, a local school designed to work with at-risk adolescent boys.
“We have been coming down on Wednesdays and Thursdays for four years,” said Sharon Singleton, a special education teacher at Bonnie Brae, in Liberty Corner. “I have eight boys with me, and we have helped finish 13 homes so far.”
Called the Brae Builders, the boys have been working on the different homes, and basically follow the Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity because it serves families in the Somerset County area.
“We are making a difference in people’s lives,” Singleton said. “This is a real give and take for everyone.”
Singleton said the partnership came about as a way to inspire the boys in the school.
“My dad, Richard Bedner, worked with Habitat, and we started working together to formulate the plan,” she said. “And it has been four years now.”
Asbury said there are other groups that participate in the building, including corporate groups, small businesses, church groups, high schools and individual contributors—and a donation of $100,000 is considered a full sponsorship.
Aside from the work that goes into actually building the homes, it is a long process to be accepted as an applicant actually needing a home. Asbury said Habitat for Humanity advertises when it has a project beginning.
To be considered for a home, Asbury said, a family must have the need, meaning it currently uses 30 to 50 percent of its income for housing. The family must also have the financial wherewithal to live in a home.
“They get a 0 percent interest mortgage, and there is no down payment,” she said. “And through Federal Home Loan Bank, there is a $15,000 down payment and $3,000 to assist in closing.”
Finally, Asbury said, candidates for a home must have the ability to partner with others, meaning they can put in the time to assist with the building of their home and others.
“We usually get a pool of people, and then we do a lottery,” she said. “Our dream is to fullfill all needs long term, but right now we can’t. So the lottery depends on the size of the project.”
And, Asbury said, they choose a small number of families at once so they don’t have to wait a long time for a house—they can only be building a few at a time.
In the community on Dutch Lane, where Saunders will be moving her family, there will be a total of nine homes, with two left to be completed, and scheduled to be finished in the spring.
“We started this community in 2009,” Asbury said. “A project like this can take up to five years. This had a subdivision, so we had to work with zoning and planning.”
Still, Asbury said, finding land on which to build is always the toughest part of the process.
“We are always looking for land donations,” she said. “We prefer they already have utilities to the properties, and no zoning or wetland issues.”
And to fund the work, Asbury said, the organization is constantly fundraising, and has received government grants, including $647,000 from the Department of Community Affairs, one from Bridgewater Township and one from Somerset County.
For Saunders, her next step is a preparation for the closing on the house in two weeks. She and her children, she said, are excited about this next chapter in their lives.
“The experience overall has been good,” she said. “There have been challenges, but the organization is always there for you.”
“I can’t even express it, this has been a long haul,” she added.