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As Kelsey Trumbull, a McDaniel College student, used a miter saw to cut a length of board in the middle of a partially completed town house Saturday, she admitted she had no experience in construction or with power tools.

"I've never really done anything like this before," Trumbull said. "The closest I ever came was helping my dad build a house for our cat."

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Trumbull, along with her sorority sisters from Alpha Sigma Tau, spent the day assisting workers with Habitat for Humanity of Carroll County as they constructed five town houses at Union Crossing in Westminster. Habitat for Humanity volunteer Dave Hall, who was in charge of the build site, said this was the organization's first ground-up construction job in Carroll County in many years.

"The affiliate hadn't done anything major around here in years," Hall said. "Then it got reorganized; we got a new executive director, and we got this $500,000 grant from the city of Westminster," Hall said. "From what I understand, the city has been interested in building here for a long time, but $500,000 wasn't enough to build the houses with a standard contractor."

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In recent years, Hall said, the group has focused on fixing up pieces of existing property for Habitat for Humanity homeowners, but he hopes the establishment of these five town houses will allow the organization to undertake more building projects in the future. Each family placed in one of the Habitat homes is responsible for paying a mortgage to the organization until the house is paid off.

"That's 3,000 a month coming in that goes towards other homes' materials and things like that," Hall said. "So each family is actually paying it forward for the next 30 years. When you pay your mortgage to the bank, who knows where that money's going? Here you know it's doing good."

Before moving in, each partner family must put in 250 construction hours, which Habitat calls "sweat equity" hours, working on the project. Jennifer DeJesus, who will inhabit one of the new town houses, said the process has taught her a lot about construction.

"We're learning the little things, which is good, because we're about to become homeowners," DeJesus said. "If something breaks, we can't call the landlord, and I'll have to fix it myself."

Construction began in May, and DeJesus said Habitat for Humanity expects her to move in by Christmastime. Hall said the skills learned through the process will serve all the families for years to come.

"They're all learning a lot about buildings," Hall said. "Here, we've got five unfinished basements, and I can just about assure you that in the first year, they will become bedrooms, club rooms, TV rooms and they'll probably all build them among the five families."

Trumbull said aiding Habitat for Humanity is a national goal for Alpha Sigma Tau's community service initiatives. Together the sorority sisters helped mix concrete, nail boards to walls for drywall to be hung and helped out in any capacity they could. Lindsey Rothrock said she enjoyed the opportunity for physical labor.

"I was excited to wake up early on a Saturday just for this," Rothrock said. "Typically I wouldn't be excited to wake up at 6:45 in the morning, but knowing we were going to help people and have fun really helps."

Trumbull said the sorority had the opportunity to meet with DeJesus and hear her story.

"She told us the whole process of how she got here today," Trumbull said. "Seeing who's being helped really brings the whole experience home."

Hall said he's been a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for 14 years, and he is always thrilled to see a build come together.

"Our philosophy is that everyone deserves a decent place to live, and that's become more and more obvious, but it's also becoming more and more difficult," Hall said. "What the families get out of this deal is a stable place to live, with the same school and the same teachers in the same neighborhood. In addition, this group is going to have a five-family support structure all located next door."

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Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or jacob.denobel@carrollcountytimes.com.

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