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Building Blitz: Pomona Pitches In on Habitat for Humanity Project

The College is pitching in on a Habitat for Humanity project that will build homes near campus for six local families, including a Pomona staff member and her children.

Turn off the tube. Go grab a hammer.

Pomona College is pitching in on a Habitat for Humanity home-building blitz that just might make hyperactive TV carpenter Ty Pennington seem like a slacker.

Sure, Pennington and his "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" crew manage to completely remodel a home in one week. Now get this: the local Habitat chapter plans to build six homes from the ground up in six weeks.

The building blitz is the largest project ever undertaken by the Pomona Valley Habitat chapter, with the six homes going up on an acre of land at the southeast corner of First Street and Claremont Boulevard. One of the families benefiting from the project will be Pomona College Admissions Office employee Beth Hubbard and her three daughters.

The project will rely heavily on volunteers. That's where you come in. "If you can hammer a nail, they need you desperately," said Hubbard, who will be putting in quite a few work hours herself.

A five-college build weekend is set for 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 8 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9. A Pomona College build weekend is scheduled for the same hours on Saturday, Oct. 22 and Sunday, Oct. 23.

Construction volunteers must be 19 years or older (others can still help at registration and hospitality tables), and must attend an orientation session. For more information, contact Jamie Johnson at the Volunteer Center or go to the Pomona Valley Habitat chapter's Website.

In the works for four years, the project was made possible by donations of land from the city of Claremont, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Claremont. The Habitat chapter decided a building blitz would be the best way to generate enthusiasm for the project. They've received generous donations ranging from architectural design work to drywall, but are still hoping to nail down more donations of money, materials and labor.

Foundations were laid in advance and rough electrical and plumbing work were put in place in advance of the project's ceremonial Oct. 1 kick-off, where volunteers raised a wall for each house.

Each of the two-story homes will be roughly 1,250 square feet, with four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Pomona Valley Habitat for Humanity typically builds only two homes each year in this area, in part due to the sky-high land prices. Those high prices also mean the need for housing is great. Upwards of 200 families applied for one of the six homes in this project, according to Cyndi Torres, executive director of the Pomona Valley Habitat for Humanity chapter.

"Family selection is the toughest job if you volunteer for Habitat," says Torres. "How can you turn down people who are living in really deplorable conditions?"

Partner families are chosen based on their finances, their need for better housing and their ability to commit to the project. Couples must put in a minimum of 500 hours (250 for single-parent households) of "sweat equity" working on other Habitat builds. And the homes aren't free. Habitat families must pay off a mortgage for the cost of the home -- principal only, no interest -- and must make a 1 percent down payment. The typical Habitat home in this area costs $130,000 to $150,000. "The No. 1 myth of Habitat is that people think it's a free house," says Torres.   

Hubbard applied in February, and now is close to completing her "sweat equity" hours, having volunteered on Habitat projects in Glendale and elsewhere. She's learned a lot about construction along the way. "I have stood on a second-story roof, painting and nailing," said Hubbard.

A Pomona employee for five years, Hubbard says the new home will allow herself and her daughters -- ages 4, 11 and 12 -- to sink deeper roots here in Claremont, where her job will be an easy walk from home.

But first will come six weeks of hard but rewarding work for the hundreds of volunteers organizers are hoping to draw for the building blitz. "It's an amazing thing if you haven't been on a Habitat build," says Torres. "It's really energized. You're working with other volunteers and you're working with the families."

And just like on TV, expect a tear-jerker ending. When the work is done, volunteers turn out for the dedication ceremony, where the families are given the keys and a chance to say a few words. Often, they're too overwhelmed with emotion to speak. "You have to have Kleenex," says Torres.