After World War II, buying a home became crucial to achieving the American dream. You fall in love, get married, buy a home and then start a family — maybe not in that specific order, but many people imagine this series of events unfolding as they plan out their life.
As wages remain relatively stagnant and the price of housing in Delaware skyrockets, buying a home — fulfilling the American dream — is no longer within reach for many couples and families. Low credit scores, a lack of savings and other unexpected expenses can leave people struggling to receive approval for a mortgage. For those people, renting, which is also expensive in the First State, is the only option.
For 26 years, Sussex County Habitat for Humanity has served as a lifeline for families who are unable to purchase a home through traditional avenues. According to Executive Director Kevin Gilmore, “The gap of affordability continues to grow. And that is a serious problem for people who are hardworking and just don’t earn enough money to secure decent, affordable housing. So we’re here to serve a niche and to help as many people as we possibly can through affordable, decent home ownership.”
Habitat for Humanity projects dot the landscape of Sussex County. Homes are being built and repaired in Ellendale, Delmar, Georgetown, Laurel, Lincoln, Milton and Seaford. The newest home under construction in Milton will belong to Steven Efford, April Rash and their two children. The family spends as much time as possible helping volunteers lay plywood and set rafters on what will eventually be their new home. “I am extremely thankful. Thank God we are able to have a home for our two kids; a place they can actually call home. Not that our apartment isn’t home, but it’s totally different than having your own home with a yard for them to just do whatever they want,” said Rash.
The organization requires the recipients of homes to contribute sweat equity — they help build their own home and often volunteer to help build homes for others in need. It’s a cycle of giving that makes neighborhoods where Habitat for Humanity is active a better place for everyone to live. “It is eye opening that we are all in this together. The folks who are buying our houses are no different than you and I. They just have different things that have happened in their lives where they can’t get over the hurdle to home ownership. The community coming together never ceases to amaze me. We live in a wonderful place,” said Gilmore.
None of the work would be possible without the generous help of volunteers. More than 3,500 volunteers help build or repair homes in Sussex County each year. While they don’t receive a paycheck for their hard work, they all agree it’s rewarding to see a happy family find a place to call home. “I love it. It gives so much more purpose in my life. And just to meet the people who get these homes is great. It’s really awesome to be a part of it, to help them out,” said AmeriCorps member Brittni Sullivan.
According to Caitie Geoghegan, another AmeriCorps member, “It’s really fulfilling to get to do this, and it’s very hands-on so you can see a lot of progress and a lot of change happening, not only in the communities but also with the individuals we get to work with all the time.”
Efford, Rash and their kids are expected to move into their new home at the end of August. Efford said, “It means a lot. We’ll have our own house, and the kids can play in the yard and have cookouts. And, I got to put my hands on this house, my house, and help build it.”
They are one of more than 100 individuals and families who are living, or will soon live, in homes built by selfless volunteers who are willing to donate their time and skillsets to a cause much bigger than themselves. “It takes about 3,500 volunteers to help Habitat run here in Sussex County. They are the life blood of the organization. We couldn’t keep our homes affordable without them. Sussex County residents really want to make this place better and they are willing to
put their time and effort into it,” said Gilmore.
To learn more about about how to volunteer with Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, please visit www.sussexcountyhabitat.org.