Building homes in Fergus

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has spent many of his retirement days as  a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. This world wide program was established in 1976 and is based in Carter’s home state of Americus, Georgia. The Fergus Falls Area Affiliate was formed in January 1991. It includes the surrounding communities and counties of Western Ottertail, Grant, Wilkin and Richland in North Dakota. Since its beginning, the Fergus Falls program has built or rehabilitated 53 homes. Area Director, Craig Molstad, has been with the Fergus Falls site for seven years. “I actually opened the door for Rosalyn Carter when I was in college at Moorhead.” Molstad has been opening doors for many individuals in his role as director, enabling them to find new housing or fix up their existing home. “Ninety homes in Ottertail County were damaged by the Wadena tornado this summer. Every Sunday afternoon we open our warehouse (a Quonset donated by Dahlstrom’s Carpet Outlet of Fergus) and make available any of our donated supplies such as cabinets, windows and doors.  Thirty percent of our houses we build for Habitat for Humanity are built with donated materials.” “In fact, the state of Minnesota in 2009 honored our program with the “cheap” award. It was the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle best practice award.  We are always looking for donated material.” Pam Johnson has worked with the local agency for many years. She has kept a scrapbook of the numerous completed projects. “A couple of our hardest workers are in their late seventies and early eighties,” she notes. Eugene Manning, 77, gets a great deal of satisfaction from “helping those people buy a home they could never buy any other way.” Manning, a former Habitat for Humanity board member, explained the process of obtaining a house through this program. Families are chosen through an application process. Based on certain criteria, the selection committee chooses the family. Each family must put in at least 350 hours of sweat equity into the house. Mortgages on a nonprofit, no-interest basis are paid over an average of 25 years and deposited into the revolving “Fund for Humanity” which supports the construction of more homes. Manning attributes his handy-man skills to “growing up on a farm.” But his years spent as an educator is a driving force in his role as a volunteer. “Studies show that once kids get into their own house, one letter grade improvement is shown in their school progress. Del Barringer, 80, uses his experience and training in sheet metal fitting. He often does the installation of heating systems. Barringer has worked for the program for over 25 years. He has seen a lot of single parent families receive help over the years and is happy to do his part in assisting such families. Barringer has worked with Habitat’s “A Brush with Kindness” program. This nation-wide program focuses on exterior home repair services such as painting, roofing, window replacement, handicapped access work, minor plumbing repairs, landscaping and winterization. Retired Fergus Falls science school teacher, Loren Woolsen, 80, likes to give up his time to be a volunteer. “It makes you feel good that you can help somebody else that needs the help,” Woolsen remarked. Woolsen remembers a rewarding experience that touched his heart while working on one of the first homes built in Fergus. “I was project manager and supervising  a “sentence to serve” worker. We were finishing some interior work when the new home owner arrived and began talking on the phone. Then she turned and discovered the worker was her father whom she hadn’t seen in many years. He had been working on his daughter’s house and a reunion took place right there.” Del Larson, 68, has traveled to Biloxi, Miss. to help Katrina victims build new homes. His wife Carole, 65, works along side of him in their joint volunteer venture. She has been a former secretary/treasurer of the area board. Del’s electrical and carpentry skills are very useful in many aspects of the home construction phase. “While in Mississippi, we witnessed the folks take possession of their new home. That’s the rewarding part of our labor.” Shirley Seyfried is the current president of the Fergus Falls Habitat for Humanity Board. As a former nursing instructor at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Seyfried coordinated volunteer activities through the college. She helped to engage students and faculty in several area projects. Not only are the seniors involved in the home construction process, but also in the office staffing as well. Betty Brockopp, 72, was hired through the Experience Works program (formerly Green Thumb) in March 2006. Betty was such an asset to the office, she was hired permanently. She answers the phones at the Habitat for Humanity offices located in the lower level of the Church of Peace United Methodist Church, 1500 S. Cascade in Fergus Falls. To learn more about the Fergus Falls Habitat for Humanity program, check out their web page at www.fergushabitat.com. Area phone numbers are  218-736-2905 or 218-282-0139  or e-mail fergushabitat@yahoo.com.

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