Home, sweet home
By Suzanne Cassidy, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The traditional gift for a fifth anniversary is made of wood.
For their fifth anniversary, Dagim Rasso and Jitu Fola got something made of wood, and a whole lot more: It was their first house, built by Lancaster Area Habitat for Humanity.
On Saturday morning, Rasso and Fola received the keys to their brand-new, three-bedroom townhouse in Lancaster city, in a dedication ceremony.
The Rasso-Fola house was the 11th house built on the 600 block of Fairview Avenue by Lancaster Habitat. It has just 992 square feet of living space. But it's energy-efficient and filled with light, and for Rasso and Fola, it's a dream made manifest.
They were leaving behind an old apartment that leaked so much when it rained that they had to put an umbrella over their computer.
"I have my own house," Fola exulted. "God is good."
She and her husband grew up together in Ethiopia, where they attended the same school, the same church. Fola has lived in the United States for 10 years; she had won the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery. The couple married in Ethiopia in 2008, and Rasso came to the United States in 2010.
He said he and his wife wanted to come here from Ethiopia, a country that continues to be plagued by poverty, to "improve our lives, to help our families." They're permanent residents of this country -- only U.S. citizens and permanent residents may purchase Habitat homes -- and are elated to have their own piece of the American dream.
Stacie Reidenbaugh, executive director of Lancaster Habitat, said homeownership does indeed remain part of the American dream, even after these past years of turmoil in the housing market.
Foreclosures may have marred the dream for some. But among Lancaster Habitat homeowners, she said, the foreclosure rate is a scant .0005 percent.
Habitat homeowners purchase their homes at cost with zero-percent mortgages held by Habitat.
They need a steady income to qualify for a mortgage.
They are required to attend workshops on homeownership and financial education at Tabor Community Services.
And they put in 500 hours of "sweat equity" on their homes.
Rasso and Fola completed their sweat-equity hours in "record time" -- just four months -- Reidenbaugh said.
They did so while holding full-time jobs: He works as a packer at a food company; she works as a nursing aide at a local retirement community.
Owning a home is "not something people do because it's easy," Reidenbaugh said. "It's a commitment to the community ... to stability."
And, for married couples such as Rasso and Fola, it's a commitment "to each other," Reidenbaugh said, noting that it was apt that this couple should move into their home on their wedding anniversary.
Standing in her pristine new kitchen, before dozens of well-wishers, Fola thanked Lancaster Habitat staff members and volunteers for their help.
At her side, brimming with quiet emotion, her husband, quoting from Psalm 116, asked, "What must I give you, Lord, for being so good to me?"
Hundreds of volunteers, some from area churches, took part in building the Rasso-Fola home. Hempfield Church of the Brethren was the lead sponsor for the project.
Construction had to be delayed at one point so that Habitat's construction team could help to repair local homes damaged by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
"It was a long road," but Rasso and Fola "persevered -- they didn't complain," said Barbara Hoffman, a Lancaster Habitat volunteer who shepherded the couple through the process.
At Saturday's dedication ceremony, a buffet table was set with Ethiopian foods.
The Rev. Gemechisa Guja, pastor of Oromo Evangelical Church of Lancaster, blessed the home. He led those gathered in singing and praying in English and in the language of the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
"God has blessed us a lot," Guja said in an interview. "We really appreciate what the people of this area -- especially Habitat for Humanity -- have done for our people."
Desalegn Biftu, a member of the Oromo church, lives in a Habitat home on the same block as the Rasso-Fola home.
"I don't know how to explain how you feel when you have your own home," he said. "It's happy ... but it's more than that."
Said Rasso, his newest neighbor: "God bless America and ... Habitat for Humanity."n
Dagim Rasso and Jitu Fola get the keys to their first house, thanks to Habitat for Humanity and their own hard work.