Miami Catholics pitch in to build new Habitat home in honor of pope, Year of Mercy
Friday, August 28, 2015
Tom Tracy – Florida Catholic
No sooner had they parked the car than the Ross children were busy picking flowers and frolicking in what will soon be their new front yard — no small luxury after eight years of living in an apartment building.
“My kids are very active and I want something where they can come out and play, and space for them to be outdoors is one of the big things I wanted,” Ross said.
“This has more of a feeling of belonging because my grandmother owned a house three blocks up,” she added, “and it’s kind of where my mom grew up so it’s nice that I will raise my kids here.”
And to make the Habitat home even more meaningful, it is walking distance to the same elementary school in Liberty City her mother attended.
Ross has been a single mother since the age of 16. But that didn’t stop her from becoming a graduate of Miami Northwest Senior High and then Johnson & Wales University in North Miami, where she received honors in criminal justice studies. With the help of extended family, she has raised three children while doing well in the food service industry, managing a fast-food location in Coconut Grove.
After several inquiries, Ross interviewed for the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami program, and following a home visitation and application process, she was approved for a soon-to-be-built three-bedroom/two-bath single family home in Liberty City.
The Archdiocese of Miami contributed $60,000 toward the home, matching a grant made by an anonymous Habitat donor who wanted to honor Pope Francis, who will visit Cuba and the U.S. this fall.
Local parishes, schools, seminarians and youth and young adult groups will contribute to the volunteer building effort, which kicks off Sept. 12 with Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino giving a blessing. Working 13 consecutive weekends, completion is expected by mid-December.
“Since being accepted into the program and helping at other Habitat houses I look at the colors and I am checking out other things while helping paint, putting the windows in and now I am just waiting to do it on my own home,” said Ross, who is required to complete 250 volunteer hours with Habitat for Humanity.
She is planning for grey tile for the flooring with black appliances and a sea foam grey and white house exterior.
The monthly mortgage for Habitat homeowners often does not exceed $700-$800, and recipients are not required to put up a hefty mortgage down payment.
“I am a single mom, and I know about hard work,” said Ross. “There is a stigma that when you have a child so young that you will drop out of school, that you will do this or do that, but I really depended on my extended family so I could go to school while working, which led to a position as a general manager for a restaurant.
“After all the hard work, this is what I got for it: Buying a house, and I am ecstatic, lost for words,” she said. “I am so happy because I get to see the construction of my home, my children get to see it built and we are the first people to live there, so it is really ours.”
Maureen Ruggiero, director of development for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, said the Atlanta-based agency is currently building homes in Liberty City and one other Miami-area neighborhood, and the archdiocese supported the idea of this new home.
“An anonymous donor from another state has been sponsoring homes around the country in honor of Pope Francis, and they chose to do one in Miami,” Ruggiero said.
The land was donated by Miami Dade County through a program for low-income families. A subcontractor will build the home’s foundation, shell, electrical and steel components, leaving much of the rest of the labor for the volunteer corps, including framing, insulation, drywall, landscaping and other details.
In the 1980s, Liberty City suffered racially-motivated unrest and riots which negatively affected the region, and there is still a significant amount of blighted or abandoned homes there, according to Ruggiero.
“We have built close to 400 homes there since 1989 but it is a big area and there is still a lot more to be done. We are grateful for this partnership with the archdiocese,” she said. “I think personally Pope Francis is helping the poor and as a Christian organization we (Habitat for Humanity) are doing that as well.”
Applicant families are selected by need, willingness to partner in terms of volunteering and attending workshops, and ability to contribute to the project financially with a minimum income.
Katie Blanco Crocquet, president of the archdiocesan Development Corporation, noted that the Church’s grant of $60,000 was made possible by a 2013 gala fundraiser that coincided with the 55th anniversary of the archdiocese. That event raised money for a variety of needs, and the Habitat volunteer effort also embodies the Church’s social justice teaching by engaging Catholics in a social outreach project.
“We are glad that we were able to use a portion of the funds raised at the gala to support the Pope Francis House collaboratively with Habitat for Humanity, and more importantly, that our Catholic community — through our various ministries, schools and groups — will be uniting to build this Pope Francis house,” Crocquet said.
Stephen Colella, director of the Secretariat for Parish Life, said South Florida Catholics can expect more such communitywide service projects in the coming year, which Pope Francis has designated a worldwide Holy Year of Mercy.
The extraordinary jubilee runs from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, and bears the motto, “Merciful like the Father.” Pope Francis has said his intention in proclaiming the holy year is for the Church to “make more evident its mission to be a witness of mercy.”
“Of course we want to help with project like this. We help because we are Catholic,” said Colella, noting that the Habitat volunteer team is about 80 percent in place.
“How special that the Holy Father is coming to the U.S., and this project is a great gift to give him,” Colella added. “We are ending the year by going into the Year of Mercy and one of the things we would like to do is model and give witness to the different corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This projects ties all of that together.”
Habitat for Humanity is currently building homes in two Miami neighborhoods, including these in the Liberty City area. The Archdiocese of Miami has partnered with an anonymous donor to build a home for one family in Liberty City, in honor of Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy.