Brian Ney and Nicole Stratman have spent several Thanksgivings together, but this one will always hold a special place in their hearts.
That's because it will be the first holiday the couple and their four children get to spend in a home of their very own.
"It's going to be amazing, for sure," Ney said Friday, just hours before he and Stratman finalized the purchase of their new three-bedroom house in Lincoln. "Having a solid home of our own, with a good foundation under us for Thanksgiving, it's just more than would have imagined a year ago."
The family's dream of moving into a new home became a reality last week, in part, through a partnership between Sussex County Habitat for Humanity and the Sussex County Division of Community Development and Housing's Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
Using a federal stimulus grant provided by the county, Habitat For Humanity was able to purchase the previously abandoned home out of foreclosure about six months ago.
Nearly 150 volunteers from AmeriCorps, the University of Delaware's Kent & Sussex Alumni Club and various church organizations then joined Ney and Stratman in rehabbing the property over a period of about five months, culminating with a dedication ceremony on Friday.
"This is a very special family who worked very hard to reach this moment," Kevin Gilmore, the executive director of Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, said during the ceremony. "This is exactly what we strive for with this program and we're so excited that this day has finally arrived for them."
For Ney and Stratman, it was the end of journey that began during a dark hour for their family one year ago.
"At the time, we were renting a mobile home in Lincoln and I had just quit my job to be a stay at home dad because the cost of childcare was killing us," Ney said. "We were having to choose between that and buying food, so I had to make a decision."
Subsisting only on Stratman's income as an assistant manager at the KFC in Milford, the family of six – including 5-year-old Corrine, 3-year-old Arianna and the 1-year-old twins, Brison and Dani-Lynn – were in serious need of health care coverage, so Ney turned to the phone book for help.
"Right next to 'health care' was 'housing,' and that's when the number for Habitat for Humanity just jumped out at me like it was in highlighter or something," he said.
After making that initial call, the couple filled out applications, went through the interview process and participated in agency-run courses on maintaining a household budget and eliminating debt.
"We require buyers to be debt free by the time we sell them the house, because we're not going to set them up for failure," explained Thomas Protack, the community engagement director for Habitat. "They have to be able to afford the mortgage payments, which average about $450 to $550 a month and they each must contribute 250 hours of work on the house."
Page 2 of 2 - Stratman said it wasn't easy to put in the work on the house during her two days off each week.
"I didn't get to see my kids a lot, but it was definitely worth it in the long run," she said. "There is no way we would have been able to afford our own home otherwise, and I'm just so thankful that we can finally move in."
Habitat to build new home in Milford next year
Sussex County Habitat for Humanity is currently seeking donated land in the Milford area on which to build a new home in partnership with Burris Logistics and Brendon T. Warfel Construction.
The companies announced their partnership with Habitat last month and are currently raising funds to move the project forward.
Burris, Warfel and Sussex County Habitat for Humanity are also reaching out to the community in the hopes of finding a suitable property.
“No doubt, you will be giving the gift of homeownership so that a Milford family will have a decent, safe and affordable place to live and raise their children,” said Tom Protack, Habitat’s director of community engagement. “As the walls of their house go up, so many other walls of anxiety, worry and doubt will come down.”
Brendon Warfel will volunteer as the construction leader on the project, which is slated to begin next spring. Employees at Burris Logistics also will volunteer their time to raise funds and contribute to the construction.
Members of the community and other local companies are being asked to help participate, as well.
Anyone interested in donating land or joining the project is asked to call Sussex County Habitat for Humanity at (302) 855-1153, ext. 210.