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Wheaton Firefighters Donate Time for Habitat for Humanity

Members of the Wheaton Firefighters Union work on Habitat for Humanity Homes in West Chicago on Thursday.

First-time homeowner Felicia Gibson said after qualifying for a Habitat for Humanity home in West Chicago, she's enjoyed meeting the volunteers who have helped complete odds and ends in her dream home.

On Thursday, the volunteers installing her kitchen floors were from the Wheaton Firefighters Union.

Wheaton firefighter and union president Kevin King said a few years ago, a group of firefighters decided to try and give back to the community. "We decided at least once a year we'd pick an organization to volunteer for. This is our second year (with Habitat)," he said.

"We have a lot of guys that are skilled laborers," said King, "All of us have a basic knowledge of building construction."

Built entirely by Habitat for Humanity volunteers and eligible homebuyers, the 13 Habitat houses in West Chicago are nearly complete after Habitat bought them last year.Β 

Habitat volunteer Peter Klassen said the organization bought the homes through Federal Neighborhood Stabilization Act money. The homes were then stripped repaired before Habitat passed them onto "partner families" about six months later, Klassen said.

Gibson was approved for her Habitat home in June 2011 and moved into her house in December. The former lifelong renter said it has always been her dream to own a house. In 2004, she began applying for homebuying assistance programs. She was denied three times before June 2011, she said.

Families approved for a no-interest loan on a Habitat for Humanity home are required to commit to 250 "sweat equity" hours, which include work on other Habitat houses and volunteer hours in the community. "They do pay for their housing," Klassen said. "It's affordable housing for modest means."

Gibson, who is paying the interest-free mortgage for the $132,000 home contributed closing costs before she moved in, and received a grant from DuPage County to help with costs. In addition to sweat equity hours, Gibson attended homebuyer education classes to learn how to maintain her home, from fixing a broken sink to keeping money in an escrow account for taxes, she said.

"The mortgage we pay goes towards somebody else's house here, so you want to be on time and keep up, because it affects how they bless somebody else," Gibson added.

"I like the fact that I can put pictures up... put holes in the walls. This is the first time I've ever put a real curtain rod up on a wall... I really like it," she said.

"We really feel like we have something that belongs to us."

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