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WHITESBORO – It was last Thanksgiving when Gloria Laboy and her family found out they had been selected to be the next recipients of a house through Habitat for Humanity in Cape May County.

On July 25, after nearly 200 volunteers, including the Laboy family, built the house and got it ready, she received keys to the home in a dedication ceremony welcoming her to the neighborhood.

"It was two days before Thanksgiving," Laboy recalled, when she was notified by Habitat representatives that they wanted to interview her and her family as one of four final applicants. “They started asking the kids about what colors they would paint their rooms, and how they felt about doing the painting. The expressions on their faces, I'll never forget them, when they told us we were selected for the next home."

Fifty-five families had applied for housing during that phase.

Laboy, 27, and her four children, Zah'mier, 9; Zyanna, 8; and twins Za'ryah and Zy'asia, 6, put more than 400 hours of “sweat equity” into their home.

"I was here every day I could be, including every other Saturday when I had the weekend off," said Laboy, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) currently living in Erma.

Families are required to contribute 300 hours of “sweat equity” into building their Habitat house and the houses of others, and are selected based on their willingness to partner with Habitat, and ability to pay a mortgage, property taxes and insurance.

"The kids got to pick out the colors for their room," added Philip Heck, Court House, who has been a Habitat volunteer for four years, working on five houses. He was in charge of painting for the Laboy home.

"Even though they are young, the children were focused and spent the whole day painting their rooms. There were volunteers who helped them, but they got the job done," Heck said.

Prior to dedication, the children were running barefoot from room to room, showing off their brightly-colored rooms and exclaiming about the softness of the rugs.

The four-bedroom, two-bath home with a wrap-around porch is also an "Energy Star home" since one of the grants used for the house required all appliances and the house to be energy efficient, with the Energy Star label.

Heck was one of a number of Habitat volunteers who were present July 25 for the dedication ceremony. "Gloria was here a lot," he said, "and I got to know her pretty well.

"She has such a sense of family," noted Jennifer Gensemer, manager of Habitat's volunteer program, "with a very strong work ethic. She was always here and communicating her gratitude to the volunteers all the time. You could also see how she is raising her children to be polite, conscientious with a strong work ethic as well. She is so deserving of this house."

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, non-denominational Christian housing ministry which welcomes all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or any other difference to help build houses in partnership with people in need of safe, affordable shelter.

Habitat affiliates work locally in communities around the world, and in Cape May County, to select and support homeowners, to organize volunteers, to coordinate house building and repair, and to raise donations of cash, goods and services. Habitat Cape May targets families with incomes of 50 percent of the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) median family income in Cape May County, or families earning approximately $37,000 per year or less for a family of four.

"Habitat is able to make housing affordable to low-income families because houses are sold through a no-profit mortgage," explained Shawn Lockyear, executive director of Cape May Habitat for Humanity. 

In Cape May County, homes are sold for significantly less than market value (approximately $110,000), and through zero-interest mortgages financed by Habitat. The monthly mortgage payments made to Habitat Cape May County help fund the building of new affordable housing in the community.

"Habitat for Humanity is able to sell homes through no-profit mortgages because individuals, corporations, faith groups and others provide vital financial support, and homeowners and volunteers provide the labor to build and repair houses under trained supervision," noted Lockyear. "Local businesses and municipalities in Cape May County also donate or discount land, building materials and services for our construction projects."

Laboy's home is the third Habitat home built on Sumner Street, each also funded with a grant from Mustard Seed of Cape May County.

"They donated all their profits from the This and That Thrift Store in Rio Grande to help us," Lockyear said. "Because of them, and more than 25 major sponsors and almost 200 volunteers, we are providing safe, affordable housing to a dozen children on this street. I think this is one of the most beautiful streets in Whitesboro and I promised the neighbors I would do right by them. I thank them for embracing our families."

Deputy Mayor Daniel Lockwood of Middle Township congratulated Habitat for the "blood, sweat and tears" volunteers put into the building of the homes. "You are so dedicated to a good, positive cause and it attracts positive people. We have a bright future going forward."

The three Sumner Street lots were donated by Middle Township, with the support and efforts of the Middle Township Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

The Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity Program provided 50 percent of the cost of the construction and The Mustard Seed of Cape May County awarded a $50,000 grant per Sumner Street house.

Another volunteer at the dedication, Hope Gaines of Cape May, said, "It's a great feeling to see this all done. I came almost every Tuesday to help, and every time, it miraculously moved forward. Everyone who worked on this house got along great; at lunch we'd sit and talk about everything from hobbies to travel to politics. It was a big social thing, and at the same time we built a house."

Gaines has been a Habitat volunteer since March, and learned how to use some power tools as well as other house-building activities. She is master gardener-trained, and also helped with some of the plantings around the Laboy home.

"Over the years, the supervisors have been really good," added Heck, who considers himself a jack-of-all-trades. "I've learned a lot from their good training and instructions."

Volunteers need not have any specific housebuilding skills, and are guided by other Habitat volunteers. Work has started on the next Habitat house, on West Anna Street. Anyone wanting to join the work crew, or lend a hand with family support, outreach, construction or fundraising, should contact  volunteer@habitatcapemaycounty.org, or visit their website at http://www.habitatcapemaycounty.org.

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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