With Thanksgiving followed by the December holidays on the horizon, autumn often brings family gatherings in the home filled with love, food and comfort.

Habitat for Humanity of Westchester seeks to create these opportunities for all in simple but decent homes. The organization not only constructs houses in Mexico, India, Nicaragua and Haiti, but right here in a county generally familiar with wealth and privilege.

There are two Westchesters­: the one that is home for the rich and famous and the other where families suffer from living in one of the highest taxed areas in the country. Here, the average homeowner is burdened by so much, let alone those on fixed incomes. Habitat of Westchester aims to change this negative into a positive.

Habitat of Westchester has been building for more than 20 years. Our first home was in Larchmont for a family in which the kids have since left home, graduated college and gotten married. During that time, we have also built in Bedford, Rye, Somers, Mt. Kisco, Pound Ridge, Portchester, Armonk, Ossining, Yonkers, Mt. Vernon, White Plains, Peekskill and New Rochelle.

Realizing that homeownership changes everything, Habitat believes everyone should go to bed at night in their simple, decent home or condo. Families placed in Habitat of Westchester’s homes are required to participate in building their home, doing at least 500 hours of sweat equity. They must have a substantial need for a home. And once the home is built, families receive an interest-free mortgage.

We have been hailed for our home designs in residential architecture magazines as well as by the Architects Institute for a flood home designed in Mamaroneck.

The following are some programs that Habitat of Westchester champions.

  • Brush with Kindness. We help seniors, veterans and those who may fall into hard times in repairing their homes. Participants receive an interest-free payback agreement from the homeowner, who usually cannot pay the costs of maintaining a home.
  • Habitat for Veterans. In partnership with the Home Depot Foundation, the program aids in repairing the homes of veterans who are on a fixed income. This involves rehabbing veterans’ homes, painting American Legions and assisting with other tasks. We have a commitment to create 50 percent of new homes for vets returning to what is sometimes referred to as Battle Hill in Yonkers.
  • Flood Disaster Relief. We had just come back from New Orleans helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, which we do annually, when the FEMA disaster of 2007 hit Mamaroneck. We then helped more than 100 homeowners to fix their homes after gutting molded sheetrock and insulation. Today, we are helping families affected by Hurricane Irene in Mamaroneck and Elmsford. We also act as strong advocates to fix the flood problems of this county in a nonpartisan fashion, striving to ensure that families are protected.
  • Green Initiatives. Since 1997, we have been using green building materials, such as Structural Insulated Panes (SIP), solar panels and recycled products, as well as teaching our neighbors and holding forums about going green in homes. This year, we are building a near zero-energy home. Notably, our current headquarters is the only building on Main Street in New Rochelle with solar panels. In 1998, we built a home in a week on national television with Bob Vila to introduce a large number of green products into homes. We have also created community gardening and food programs in neighborhoods without fresh food where we build.
  • Volunteer Programs. Averaging in the thousands in this county, our volunteer basis comes from corporations and congregations yet is also comprised of citizens and community service participants. Volunteers of all ages, all faiths or no faith, and all levels of desire aid in ending poverty in this county. Volunteer orientation occurs on Mondays at 6pm at our headquarters.
  • Go Green with Habitat ReStores. We have a great recycling initiative that protects the environment, recycles home structures like doors and cabinets, and works to build more homes. There are two ReStore locations: one at 524 Main St. in New Rochelle and the other at 2 Cortlandt St. in Mt. Vernon. Chevy Chase, Martha Stewart, Starwood Hotels and others donate amazing things that can be used in homes.
  • The Local Project Committee (LPC) Model. This engages local people to create advisory boards to get programs going and find land and rehabilitation projects in order to build in every town and city in Westchester.

The key to our success is community development from the bottom up, such as a high school advisory board engaging youth to lead and learn how to build or a ministry that welcomes all faiths and those of no faith to build. The excitement in the organization and the county as a whole is still building, and Habitat for Humanity has only just begun.

See the profile pages on Facebook for Habitat of Westchester and ReStore Westchester. Learn more at www.habitatwc.org.

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