When asked if his new Habitat for Humanity home was a dream come true, Demissie Beyene Zerihun said, “No, I never had a dream this big. This is way beyond my dreams.”
At the Habitat for Humanity ribbon-cutting ceremony held in Oak Park, Zerihun said he never dreamed that so many strangers would come together to help him, his wife and his two children. Not only did these strangers generously contribute to his home, they worked beside him as he put in his 500 hours of sweat equity.
At the ribbon cutting held in Sacramento on September 11, nine years after the tragedy at the World Trade Center, U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui reminded us of the brave individuals who willingly went into the burning towers. Like them, we need to take care of each other. At this ribbon cutting, we honored another type of hero: the heroes who show up day after day, who give generously of their time and money to save lives and build dreams.
There were many such heroes represented at the ribbon cutting: the Habitat volunteers and staff; the AmeriCorps volunteers; and the congregations of 10 local Lutheran churches, who provided much of the volunteer labor and some of the financing. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a Fortune 500 company that has a national commitment to Habitat, provided the bulk of the financing for this house. County Supervisor Roger Dickinson helped Habitat receive inexpensive land that would have been headed for auction. City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond worked with Habitat to revitalize Oak Park. And Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency has partnered with Habitat in an innovative plan to move Habitat families into foreclosed homes.
And the house built by these heroes is not an ordinary house. It is a Platinum-level LEED-certified house (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), with solar panels donated through PG&E, insulation and waterproofing donated by the Dow Chemical Company, and a range and refrigerator donated by Whirlpool. The end result is a house that is said to use 50 percent less water and 80 percent less energy.
I asked Francisca Flores, who has been living in Habitat’s first LEED-certified home for the last four months, what her energy bill is. She told me that she has been receiving a $25 credit each month, even though her three kids never seem to turn off the television. As this family pays off their 30-year, zero-interest mortgage, the payments will be invested back into Habitat so that another family can have a home.
Nine years ago, when firefighters went into the burning towers, they exemplified a courage and sacrifice that Americans honor and admire. This last year, when volunteers went into the Habitat house, picked up their tools and built a home for Zerihun and his family, they inspired us again. They showed us that it is possible to create an America beyond our dreams.