Pam Lavigne said she never tried to picture her dream house. But on Saturday, Lavigne came face to face with the next best thing: a house she helped design, that also fit her needs as a single parent.
“It’s so much more than I ever could have imagined,” Lavigne said.
The house, located on East Second Street in Corning, N.Y., was built during a 12-month period by volunteers from the college’s Habitat for Humanity chapter and from Corning’s chapter, Southeast Steuben County (SESC).
Lavigne and her two daughters, Charli and Alexandra, were chosen through an application process by SESC to receive the house. Recipients are chosen based on financial need, ability to pay a monthly mortgage and willingness to help in the building process.
Families are still given a mortgage on the full price of the house, which is around $52,000 on average, Construction Project Leader Bill Wirz said. Wirz said the mortgage has a 0 percent interest rate, which makes it more affordable to families in the program.
“We’re not giving away the house,” he said. “We’re giving away an opportunity for a better home and a better life.”
Lavigne, who was recently divorced and had been living in a small apartment in Corning, said she applied to have a better home for herself and her daughters. Lavigne said she had been looking to become a homeowner and found out about the program through her sister and her daughter’s preschool teacher.
“It’s been quite a roller coaster,” she said. “It’s been trying at times, but it’s also been so much fun.”
Senior Ainsley Smith, co-president of the college’s Habitat for Humanity club, said helping build the house was both enjoyable and rewarding.
“It’s such a simple way to make a life-changing difference for someone else,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
Gary McCaslin, a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Painted Post and New York in Painted Post, N.Y., said everyone had a strong level of commitment to the project.
“I’m amazed at the amount of dedication — especially with the students [from the college],” he said.
Volunteers gave up an entire weekend last April for the “blitz build.” The frame of the house, which was built last winter inside a large warehouse, was moved to the site for this event. Volunteers then put the walls and roof on the frame over the course of the weekend, in a process called “panelizing.”
“[The blitz build] is a lot of work and a lot of fun to do,” said Lucy Wagers, a volunteer on the project.
Wirz, an engineer by profession, said he remembers watching volunteers climb around on the roof with music playing in the background. Even those without construction experience were always eager to help, he said.
“It was really amazing to see this [house] go up,” he said.
Lucy Wagers and her son, Gary, both drove more than 300 miles from Lawrence, Pa., to help with the build. The Wagers have been working with Habitat for Humanity for the past three years.
“It’s such a great experience for everyone,” Gary Wagers said.
The Wagers said they planned to continue working with Habitat for Humanity because of the fulfillment and enjoyment they get from it.
“I really want to do something to give back,” Lucy Wagers said. “I want to do something selfless.”
Smith said the camaraderie makes the work seem to go faster.
“The people we work with are just the nicest people you’d ever want to meet,” she said. “They’re like a second family to me now.”
Smith said the club has worked with SESC on similar projects for at least four years. The club also sends students down to New Orleans during the winter and spring breaks to work on rebuilding houses.
“We want to make sure anyone and
everyone has an opportunity that wants to help out,” she said.
Smith has worked on three other Habitat for Humanity projects and said she has enjoyed each experience.
“It’s such a huge part of my life now,” she said. “I can’t imagine not doing it.”
Lavigne, who helped design and build the house as part of the program, said the process was stressful but fulfilling.
“It’s very exciting but also a little overwhelming and scary,” she said. “But I’m so excited to get in and get started.”
Lavigne said after furnishing her new residence, she hopes to settle down to a quiet life with her daughters.
After cutting the ceremonial ribbon and opening the door to her new home,
Lavigne invited everyone in. She said she wanted to show off her new house to those who helped make it hers.
“We built more than a house here,” she said. “We built memories.”