A nonprofit agency that helps low-income families build their own homes.
A World War II veteran who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.
And a handcrafted soap manufacturer expanding its customer base with exports to China and Japan.
U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons found all three within two miles of each other during a tour of Milford on Dec. 7.
Delaware’s Democratic senators first visited the Milford Housing Development Corporation on East Masten Circle, a 25-year-old nonprofit that recently received a $790,000 federal grant to continue administering the USDA’s Rural Development Self Help Housing Program for the next two years.
The program helps low-income families receive low-interest federal mortgage loans to low-income families in exchange for their commitment to supply about 70 percent of all the labor required to build their home. Working in teams of four to six families, participants in the program spend about 30 hours a week over 10 months building each other’s homes.
During their visit, the senators were given a walk-through of the process and met former and current participants in the program.
“The mortgage rate is really great and it’s fun to be able to say you built your own home,” said Dover resident Erin Moyer, who is currently building a home through MHDC. “The first couple of weekends I was really sore, but it’s not as hard as I thought and it shows what you can do.”
Coons said he is proud of the work being done at MHDC.
“Homeownership is part of the American dream, and programs like USDA’s Rural Development Self Help Housing Program make that dream more accessible as we work our way out of this long and difficult recession,” he said.
To commemorate the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the senators next shared lunch with World War II-era veterans at the Delaware Veterans Home off Airport Road.
There they met with Thomas Morris, a 91-year-old former sailor on the USS California who was severely burned in the attack. After recovering from his wounds, Morris continued to serve for another year, when he was discharged and returned home to his parents’ farm in Maryland.
After lunch, the senators visited with Scott Blackson, the owner of The Soap Fairy, a handcrafted soap manufacturer on North Rehoboth Boulevard.
Blackson said he has been able to keep his business afloat in recent years, in part, because of a burgeoning export business that’s been supported by the Delaware Small Business Administration’s State Trade and Export Promotions Program (STEP).
Page 2 of 2 - “I started working with a Japanese company in about 2006 or 2007, and just went to China in May after a Chinese company found me on the Internet,” Blackson said. “If I limited my business to only people who walked into my store in Milford, I would have gone under years ago, but fortunately there is a whole planet of dirty people who need someone to sell them really good soap.”
Blackson said the SBA not only helped him find his Milford location, but has helped him navigate international import/export laws and helped to provide him with a translator.
The senators hailed The Soap Fairy as a great example to how even the smallest businesses can benefit from a global economy.
“We in government don’t create jobs,” Carper said. “What we do is create a nurturing environment for businesses to grow and this is a great example of the government providing small business with those tools.”