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by Melissa Brunner


I thought I knew what Habitat for Humanity was all about.


I was wrong.


Over the past several weeks, I've had the opportunity to learn about the Topeka Habitat for Humanity organization in preparing an hour-long special program airing at 9pm Wednesday, March 26, on WIBW-TV. (If you miss it, you'll be able to watch it online at <a href="http://www.wibw.com/habitat">www.wibw.com/habitat</a>.) I must tell you, it was an inspiring experience.


I was assigned this project because WIBW-TV has partnered with Habitat and Thrivent Builds on a home for a family of eight who emigrated from Burundi, Africa. Let's just start with the Munganga family! They are so genuine and so full of hope and optimism, you can't help but smile when you are in their presence!


I thought Habitat for Humanity collected donations and built homes which they then gave to families in need. In fact, Habitat fills a hole for what is often an underserved segment of our community - the families who are working and making ends meet, but do not have the resources to go beyond those ends. These families cannot afford a traditional mortgage. Through Habitat, they are able to receive an interest-free mortgage. The immediate impact of that is that their monthly payment is lower. Plus, the amount of the mortgage for the value of the home is often lower, because community partners and volunteer labor lower the overall costs of building the home. To that end, the homeowner walks in the door with immediate equity. And here's another consideration - one single mom who is a Habitat homeowner pointed out that she also has peace of mind from knowing it's a newer home that won't need a bunch of repairs which she is unable to complete herself or afford to hire someone to do. Before Habitat, the only houses she would have been able to afford were in rough shape.


The homeowners are the heart of Habitat. They are wonderful people who want to be engaged in their communities. Habitat allows them to do so. In producing the special, I met Heather and Mirida. They are childhood friends who now own Habitat homes right next door to each other. They saw the community come together to build their homes and, now, they are working to bring their neighborhood together to clean it up and create safe places for children to play and adults to walk and visit. They are using connections and resources discovered through their experience with Habitat to make their community a better place.


Habitat is making these transformations happen in neighborhoods all over Topeka, and all over the other communities in which the organization is active. If you don't think owning a home makes a difference in a person's life, you haven't seen the faces of these families as they enter the door.


I hope you take time to watch Wednesday's special program. You will learn about an organization that truly defines giving a hand up, versus a hand out.


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