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'Building a dream on donations'

Kevin Pelkey, Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity Executive Director (left) Mary Zim

It’s often said that a home is built on love, on compassion and family. In the eyes of Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity, it’s built on a dream.

“Our slogan, ‘building a dream on donations’ fits perfectly for all that we do here at (Habitat for Humanity),” said Mary Zimmerman, director of ReStore, which offers affordable building and home materials in conjunction with Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity. “Because we see these families as having the dream of that home and with the help of our volunteers and the community donations, we are able to make some of those dreams come true.”

But the same economic hardships that have forced many of the families in need of homes from Lakes Area Habitat have also hit the program hard.

“In the past we have built homes in faith. In knowing, trusting and believing that we will have the resources we need to fulfill promises to the people providing services to that home being built,” said Kevin Pelkey, executive director of Lakes Area Habitat. “But starting about three years ago, we built much more than we normally would in a typical building season and unfortunately it was around the same time the economy took a dive and the honest to goodness truth is that we have not fully recovered from that.”

And Pelkey says now is the time to look at correcting it.

Lakes Area Habitat currently has 225 families in Crow Wing, Cass and Hubbard counties on the waiting list for applications to be a partner family — families that may qualify for a home built by Habitat for Humanity. Currently there are five families already approved and they hope to begin building for three of those families this June. But factor in a funding gap of about $140,000 and the very purpose of the program is put in jeopardy.

“We as an organization clearly harbor expenses on our side of the equation,” said Pelkey, who has been involved in Habitat for Humanity for more than 14 years. “So we stepped back and took in to serious consideration all that we could eliminate. Anything that we really like to do such as marketing and PR had to stop and reducing staff at this time, primarily by layoffs, and decisions to contract a little bit of construction a season.

“The unfortunate reality is that it hurts what we are here to do but if we keep focus on using our reliable resources and sources of income, we believe we will correct our current needs.”

One of the greatest sources of income to keep the building process on track is the ReStore. ReStore, connected to the Lakes Are Habitat building which relocated to 1110 Wright Street in Brainerd last year, offers building materials, appliances and even furniture donated by contractors and community members and resold at 50 percent off retail value, sometimes less.

“It’s (ReStore sales) one-third of our overall income to be used for our affiliates and to help us build the houses,” said Zimmerman, who has helped ReStore since its inception at Lakes Area Habitat in 2004. “It’s not only helping low-income families or our partner families, but really is designed for anyone looking to get products at a cost.

“It not only helps people who are saving money buying stuff from our ReStore, but it eliminates getting rid of things that would otherwise end up in local area dumps and turning it in to helping others. It takes a lot of people in the community to make it work.”

It takes a lot of people in the community to make Lakes Area Habitat work, too.

Development Director Shelli Urness said in order to help alleviate the funds needed to begin building Lakes Area Habitat is hoping for a community response to match the $18,000 already raised by staff, board members and community volunteers. And not to be confused as receiving a “free house,” Urness said that partner families are required to do their part in the process of their new home, too.

“Not everybody understands the commitment of the partner family,” said Urness, who also noted that there has only been one foreclosure in the 75 homes built. “They (partner families) have to put in at least 300 hours of sweat equity in the construction of their home or other homes and they have to assume a zero percent mortgage.

“It’s not free houses. The families assume that zero percent so it’s affordable to the families.”

Families that, thanks to the hundreds of volunteer hours and dedication put forth by Lakes Area Habitat, have the opportunity to see their dreams of a home become a reality.

“I have 14 1/2 years worth of stories and every single time I have had the pleasure of dedicating a home to a family and handing them the keys it reminds me how valuable and how important this program is,” said Pelkey. “It’s life changing and not just for the people moving in, but for me it sings about the value and impact that we have.”

To get involved or make a donation to Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity visit

JESSI PIERCE may be reached at 855-5859 or Follow her on Twitter at (@jessi_pierce).