DuPage Habitat For Humanity—If I Had A Hammer…

March 2015 View more

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Dave Neary, Executive Director

Awareness. It’s the name of the game for most small nonprofits. Despite its national affiliation, DuPage Habitat for Humanity is no exception. “Among our biggest challenges is that people don’t realize we are in DuPage County or recognize there’s a need for affordable housing here,” says Dave Neary, DuPage Habitat for Humanity Executive Director.

In fact, the availability of affordable housing in DuPage County is half of what is available, on average, in the U.S. With many area jobs paying wages below the median income, there is plenty of need. “If we want the people in these jobs to live and work in our community, and make it vibrant and strong, we need to house them,” Neary says.

Neary’s involvement with Habitat began nearly a decade ago when he owned a construction business in Los Angeles. The local Habitat affiliate’s executive director asked him to manage a multi-million dollar grant project. He transitioned away from his business and took the opportunity to make a difference. From there, he began to look for another affiliate he could help grow, which brought him back to Illinois, where he grew up. Today, Neary considers himself to be “making a life instead of making a living” and is inspired by the work DuPage Habitat for Humanity does.

Building Homes, Community, and Hope

Founded in 1995 by Dick and Florence Nogaj, DuPage Habitat for Humanity works with area families, businesses, organizations and the community to build, repair, and sell affordable housing at no profit. Nationally, Habitat is the largest non-publicly traded building company in the U.S. with a new homeowner moving into a Habitat home every 3.5 minutes.

Homeowners pay a zero percent interest mortgage for the appraised value of the home plus property taxes, and every adult inhabitant must contribute sweat equity before occupying the home. Until last year, DuPage Habitat for Humanity helped between four and five families annually. The number increased to 16 last year and it’s expected to reach 21 this year and 100 by 2033.

In addition to new homes, Habitat also offers a home repair program. The program helps seniors maintain their houses so they can stay home longer, as well as refit doorways, add ramps and other changes for people with disabilities. In particular, Habitat has offered the program to veterans so they can continue in life with the dignity and independence they had before they were deployed.

How You Can Help

Volunteering with DuPage Habitat for Humanity is easy. Visit www.dupagehabitat.org to find out where homes are being built. Anyone 18 and older can help build without prior experience. Volunteers are also needed at the Addison ReStore location, where home improvement donations are sold to the general public at a deeply discounted rate. Half of the proceeds earned are used to fund projects.

Making an Impact

Neary recalls a special ceremony this past summer where three homes were dedicated in Glen Ellyn. Among the new homeowners was a veteran who had just completed his third tour of duty. Making it even more special were the five families from across the street who attended the dedication. They received their new homes the year before and were a living example of what was possible. “Seeing the hope and joy on the faces of families receiving keys to their new homes is so inspiring,” Neary says.

This year marks the DuPage Habitat for Humanity’s 20th anniversary, with the first mortgage issued expected to be paid off in September—a milestone Neary and his staff will mark with a special celebration.

Photo by Robyn Sheldon