Wauwatosa resident Ray Brandt started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity 15 years ago, when his church, Wauwatosa Avenue United Methodist, began an annual tradition of funding and helping to build houses in Milwaukee.
"It was on my bucket list to do, and I got kind of addicted to it," Brandt said. "It's a great group of people, a great cause, and terrific homeowners."
For Brandt, this year's house was number 200-something. In addition to work in Milwaukee, he has helped build houses in India, Thailand, and after Hurricane Katrina, on the Gulf Coast.
"It's simple, basic, affordable housing, but the families are all different and that's what keeps you coming back," Brandt said. "You see that you're making a difference, one family at a time."
A lot of helping hands
To date, the church group itself has build 14 homes. In the latest case, they worked with two other local churches — Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa and Emmanuele Community United Methodist Church in Menomonee Falls — to raise $30,000 to fund a house in the Washington Park Neighborhood of Milwaukee .
Building the house took more than 50 volunteers contributing a combined 960 hours to construct the frame and walls, paint and prime, and do interior carpentry.
It was completed in February, and Natasha Flowers moved in with her two daughters, 18 and 6, in March.
In order to move into the house, Flowers, like all Habitat homeowners, had to put in at least 250 hours volunteering with Habitat and get interviewed and evaluated by the organization. Now she has to make monthly payments of about $500 on a 20-year, interest-free loan to Habitat.
Blessing their work
As has become its custom, the church formally blessed the house upon its completion. At the blessing May 3, Wauwatosa Avenue United Methodist Church's pastor, the Rev. Sue Burwell, said there were prayers for the Flowers' family and their new home.
"It's a simple service asking God's blessing on the people that will live in the house, and giving thanks for the volunteers who helped build the house," Burwell said.
Burwell said the church chose to work with Habitat because of a proposal by one of their members from Elm Grove, Anne Neafie, who wanted to expand the church's reach from Wauwatosa.
"We think that outreach is very important going beyond the walls of our church," Burwell said. "Volunteers working together can build a house for a family that otherwise wouldn't have a house. That's very powerful."
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