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Cottage Grove, Habitat for Humanity welcome four families to their new homes

Cathy Lawrence, vice president of resource development for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, presents a bible to new homeowner Belaynesh Zewdie at the Jan. 30 dedication of Zewdie’s new home at Mississippi Dunes.(Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)1 / 4
Sisay Erre (left) and Birtukan Workneh (holding daughter Arsema) celebrate their new home with City Council members Jen Peterson and Steve Dennis. The couple, who immigrated from Ethiopia, were among four families moving into new homes built at Mississippi Dunes by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Their son Tewodros, 4 and Kalkidan, 6, enjoyed coloring books and munching on cake at the Jan. 30 dedication. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)2 / 4
Kevin Jackson’s daughter, Audriana, 5, explores the view from a bedroom in her new home during the Jan. 30 dedication celebration by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Jackson and three other families successfully completed the requirements for owning their own home, which they helped build, at Mississippi Dunes. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)3 / 4
Cathy Lawrence, vice president of resource development for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, leads a dedication litany during the Jan. 30 celebration at Mississippi Dunes in Cottage Grove. Four families sponsored by the non-profit have successfully completed the requirements for home ownership. They will join eight other families who live in homes built by Habitat for Humanity. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)4 / 4

At the dedication of four Habitat for Humanity dwellings, Kevin Jackson’s daughter Audriana gave her new house a thorough inspection and kid stress test.

The 5-year-old raced up the steps, tore around corners and romped through the upstairs bedrooms. She checked the view of the street from windows, opened and closed doors and beat her feet on the floors.

The home’s owner, her dad, was one of the guests of honor at a quadruple housewarming party Saturday at Mississippi Dunes in Cottage Grove. He and three other families had each earned the right to move into their own home, the final four of a dozen built by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

“I’m super excited,” Jackson, 36, said. “It’s difficult being a single father because my daughter is almost 6 years old and she needs her own space. As a father I don’t know all the girlie stuff, but she’s a great kid. I’m figuring it out." 

Guests also threw out the welcome mat for Jackson’s future neighbors: newly minted homeowners Belaynesh Zewdie; Miftah Fujaga and Tsige Gebremariam; and Sisay Erre and Birtukan Workneh.

“I’m very happy,” said Erre, a native of Ethiopia.

After an opening prayer, each spoke of their struggles to a crowd that included friends, family, volunteers, Habitat employees, elected officials and well-wishers from down the block, including some who lived in their own Habitat home. 

Habitat for Humanity builds affordable housing for low-income families who meet certain requirements. To earn that set of house keys, each applicant must complete homeownership training classes, commit to a mortgage and log a minimum 300 hours of “sweat equity” by hanging cabinets, painting, putting up siding or laying sod at their future address.

Fujaga, who immigrated from Ethiopia in 2003, commuted to the job site from Farmington, where he lives in rented quarters with Gebremariam and their two sons.

“Mitfah was pretty much here every week,” Habitat site supervisor Rhonda Thorson said. “He was here for the framing and flooring of the house, he was here for the drywall, he was here for the painting.”

While Habitat hires licensed contractors to do foundation work, roofing, wiring and plumbing, they rely on volunteers to do the rest. On any given day, the construction crew can include members of area churches, high school students and employees of corporate sponsors such as Thrivent Financial, 3M and Wells Fargo Bank.

Cathy Lawrence, vice president of resource development for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, led the assembly in the recitation of a dedication litany. Guests noshed on an Ethiopian buffet that included wat, a spicy beef stew, and ye’abesha gomen, a variant of collard greens. Instead of knives or forks, these delectables were eaten by scooping them up with injera, a spongy, stretchy pancake.

“These are no longer houses,” said Win Curtiss, a member of the dedication committee for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “They’re now homes.”

Cottage Grove City Council members Steve Dennis and Jen Peterson congratulated the new homeowners.

“As a single mom, I was very close to buying a home through Habitat,” Peterson said, recalling her struggle to make ends meet in the mid-90s. Her circumstances improved when she got married, and she withdrew her application to give another family a chance at a home.

After Peterson was elected to the council, she made it one of her goals to help to bring the first Habitat for Humanity homes to Cottage Grove.

“It’s a change of life, not just for this generation but for their kids and their kids’ kids,” she said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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