Habitat hands off keys
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Melissa Vargas, who is joined by her family, officially receives the key to her new home on Wednesday. Habitat for Humanity representatives as well as city and county officials lined up to pass the key until it reached the Vargas family.
Family moves into home built with group
When Habitat for Humanity, Greater Fresno Area CEO William Splitgerber, Jr. handed the keys over to Melissa Vargas and her family, it marked the first time Habitat for Humanity has built a house in Madera.
“This is our first dedication for Madera County and City,” Splitgerber said in a press conference before handing the keys over Wednesday. “We are very excited to be in this new partnership with them.”
“It was exciting to get that key, but I was nervous at the same time,” Vargas said. “We are finally here and finally have that dream house. My family can just run around. My kids have their backyard. I’m excited.”
Many dignitaries helped introduce Vargas to her new neighborhood on Malone Street, near Washington Avenue.
“I look at you as a family of leaders,” said Robert Poythress, Madera County Supervisor. “You came out here and didn’t ask for many things. You led the charge. You put in sweat equity, your time and effort to this. I see you as great parents and a great family.”
Before Vargas could receive the keys, they had to do 500 hours of community service and will also take a mortgage on the home.
“It feels good to do this work,” Vargas said. “It feels good that we’re getting our own house, but you’re helping other people get their dream house, too.”
For Vargas, who has five children, having a home for her children to enjoy is her biggest satisfaction.
“The reason why we’re excited is we live in an apartment and it’s tight,” she said. “We’re seven. We bump into each other. Now we have the house. The kids are running around. We’ve prayed for this and I thank the Lord for blessing us with this house.”
Splitgerber celebrated his one-month anniversary as the Habitat for Humanity CEO at the dedication.
“This is my first dedication in this role,” he said. “I’m especially excited for them. At Habitat, even though you see the balloons and gifts, they’ve worked very hard for this. At Habitat, we give a hand up, not a hand out.
“Habitat for Humanity’s mission statement is to seek to put God’s love into action. Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, community and hope. We have a feeling of hope on this day, especially for this family that is going to get the keys to a new home. That’s been quite a journey.”
Splitgerber also made sure to thank the City of Madera’s grant department for getting the house built.
“The city grant department helped secure the needed down payment assistance,” he said. “The donation of down payment assistant helps make the mortgage manageable.”
In addition, he thanked the Madera City Council, Noble Credit Union and numerous other entities that helped make this happen.
“It really does take a community to bring this to fruition,” he said. “Noble Credit Union is providing the family below-market financing for this home so they can afford this American dream of home ownership.”
The partnership between Madera and Habitat for Humanity began in 2017 with am elderly couple who had a house destroyed by fire.
“They were looking for assistance in putting that family back into a home,” Splitgerber said. “We came together with the City of Madera about how we can assist, and there, the relationship grew. We agreed to team with the city’s grant department to submit a grant proposal called Build Madera. We were able to help that couple. From then, that relationship was born and it’s grown ever since. The City of Madera has donated these lots to us to bring affordable housing to Madera to build community, homes and hope. Hope is something we need in the world.”
In addition to Vargas’ home, there will be four more Habitat for Humanity houses built on Malone Avenue.
Although Habitat for Humanity has helped the Vargas family, Splitgerber says that the Vargas family had to do their lion’s share of work.
“These people have done hard work to get their credit in line, to get finances in line and things in line to achieve this,” he said. “This is an achievement to realize an American dream.”
Mary Ayala, Habitat for Humanity Family Services Director indicated three main criteria a family must meet for qualification for a home.
“Families must demonstrate a need for safe, affordable housing, ability to repay the mortgage and be willing and able to partner with Habitat to put in the sweat equity hours required,” she said. “They help build their own home or other projects. This family has done that and then some. During the time they were putting in the sweat equity hours was during the pandemic so it was challenging for this family to put in their hours. It was a struggle with five children, but they still made the effort. For that reason, they are here today for us to celebrate with them to be homeowners.”
“When we identify a family, it’s not just their finances or ability to work the 500 hours,” Splitgerber said. “It’s somebody that needs improved housing conditions. These moments when families realize this, it’s emotional.”
In addition to receiving the key to their house, the Vargas family also received a Bible, which is a Habitat for Humanity tradition, a rake with a Home Depot gift card attached, a welcome mat from the City of Madera and a certificate from the County of Madera.
“We seek to put God’s love into action and doing his work,” Splitgerber said. “That’s what brings me to this job. For me, this is the most meaningful time.”
“This would not be possible without the work of many different entities,” Madera Mayor Santos Garcia said. “I am truly appreciative on our part to contribute to have affordable housing in our community and we will dedicate ourselves that these types of programs continue in our fair city.”
When the ceremonies were over, the Vargas family finally received the keys to their new home and the five kids could be seen running throughout the house.
“You walk in with a key, but that just begins the journey,” Splitgerber said. “It begins a journey of not only building dreams and hopes, but work. There’s work in the backyard to do landscape and work to do in the house.”
“I just want to thank the community for the hard work and the job they did,” Vargas said. “It’s a beautiful house and I can’t wait to meet the neighbors.”