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Helping to build toward home ownership


For more than a year now, Yolanda Pollard and her three sons have been living with Pollard's mother, Valoria Jackson, in a two-bedroom condo in Edgewood.

"Me and my children are inside one room, and my mom has the other," Pollard said. "So it's really tight right now."

Her 1-year-old twins, Jamier and Jamar, share a crib, while her 3-year-old, Jovan, shares a bed with his mother. Soon they'll have more room, though. This spring, Pollard and her children will move into their own home, one that Pollard helped build with Harford Habitat for Humanity.

The local chapter of the international house-building nonprofit organization has built 19 homes since it was founded in 1994. Until recently, only one or two homes were built each year. But lately, the pace has grown tremendously, and currently five homes are under construction.

Habitat for Humanity provides home ownership opportunities for low-income families. The land is donated or purchased at a low price, and labor comes from volunteers. The finished house is inexpensive, allowing qualified people such as Pollard to become homeowners, often for the first time in their lives.

Pollard's no-interest mortgage payment will be $400 a month, including homeowner insurance and taxes, considerably less than the $700 she was paying before she moved in with her mother.

Joann Blewett, executive director of Harford Habitat for Humanity, said the organization is able to step up the pace of construction as it gets more organized. Before she joined the affiliate 2 1/2 years ago, there was no executive director, she said. Now, thanks to support from churches, community groups, volunteers and the county government, "we're just off and running," she said. "We've just got incredible momentum."

In particular, two organizations with plenty of construction know-how are helping out -- Home Depot and Harford Technical High School.

About 30 employees from Home Depot stores in the Baltimore region volunteered Dec. 2 and 3 to work on the home that Pollard will buy. The home improvement chain also donated about $2,500 worth of tools.

Jim Emge, Home Depot's district manager for the Baltimore area, said he was particularly interested in helping out because he grew up in Edgewood and now lives in Bel Air. "Hopefully we helped them gain a couple of weeks on that house," he said.

This time of year, the emphasis is on getting the houses sealed up and roofed, so the winter months can be spent painting, adding electricity and plumbing, and doing other indoor jobs. Homes generally take five to nine months to build.

Meanwhile, students at Harford Technical High School, a countywide public high school with a focus on career and technical education, are building a Habitat house at the school, then moving it to its site. About 35 students will work on the house, which is currently in the planning stage, said carpentry instructor Mark Jacovitte. He hopes to start next month and finish by the end of the school year. When it's done, the house will be moved to the site and installed.

"Habitat sort of approached us," he said. "We were looking for a nice project. We have pretty big classes, so a project like this, the kids can really knock it out."

Like other Habitat beneficiaries, Pollard, who works in customer service at Comcast, has to put in 250 hours of her own sweat equity on her days off. "It's a big learning experience," she said. "I've never done any type of construction before."

The organization also relies on the help of about 1,000 volunteers, Blewett said. Like Harold Nelson of Bel Air. Nelson has been working for Habitat since March 2000, after he retired from his civil engineering job with the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore.

Nelson is guiding construction on two Edgewood houses, including Pollard's.

He works at the site Wednesdays and Saturdays.

"It was just an opportunity to try to do things that I like and to help others," he said.

His life is good, he said, and it's "time to do a little giving back to society."

Pollard also feels grateful for the turn her life is taking. She'll still be close to her mother, but she'll have a lot more room, plus a back yard.

"I was at work and I got a call from Joann, and that's when she told me I got selected. I just broke down in tears right then. I was just so happy. It was a true blessing."

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