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July Marks 'Summer of Change' for Habitat

Not going on a vacation this summer?  Jim Killoran, the director of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, is calling all volunteers to have a “Vol-cation.” “Instead of going away, volunteer this summer.  Learn how to ‘build green’ and transform neighborhoods aggressively with us,” said Killoran.

On Friday, Habitat for Humanity will launch its “Summer of Change,” a push to take back control of our local communities in Westchester.  Among the many plans for the organization this summer, is the initiative to fix-up and weatherize foreclosed houses.

The Habitat for Humanity team is using innovative means to repair these houses, including solar panels and the use of shredded blue jeans as insulation.  The cotton industry has donated 25,000 square feet of denim, so they have already weatherized some homes with it.

But there is still a need for more help, with more than 42,000 houses recently foreclosed in the New York area, according to  Westchester ranks fifth in foreclosure activity among counties in the state.  The Habitat for Humanity effort will focus on towns such as Yonkers, New Rochelle, Mt. Vernon, Peekskill, and White Plains.  “Help us fix the empty foreclosed houses so that families can get in them, so they can pay taxes … and stop the hemorrhaging that no one’s talking about,” said Killoran.

Killoran says the time is now, and that we cannot wait for the government to fix our communities for us.  “There’s no government money around,” he said. "So we’re challenging the private faith community, the corporate community, no matter what faith or no faith, to come out and take it back.”

Habitat for Humanity is calling in volunteers from all over the country to help with their aggressive neighborhood transformation.  Church and synagogue groups, as well as corporations are sending volunteers by the dozens.

Phil Reiz, from the First Parish Universalist Church of Framingham, Massachusetts, accompanied a group of 10 youth volunteers to come down to Westchester to lend a hand.  “The kids chose where we went this year.  They did the research and were attracted, for one reason, to the near zero energy housing.  We were interested about seeing that.”

Reiz explained that this was a culminating event for their year at the church, and stated that the students enjoyed the camaraderie.  “Working in the neighborhood has been very gratifying,” he said.

Jonathan Crooks, 19, began volunteering at Habitat for Humanity last year, after receiving foreclosure notice for his own home.  With the help of Habitat for Humanity and Jim Killoran, they were able to speak with the owners of the house and negotiate an agreement to stop the foreclosure.  “We were almost kicked out of our home,” said Crooks, who now attends college in Florida.  Fortunately, his mother has been able to maintain their New Rochelle residence.

After receiving such support from Habitat for Humanity, Crooks decided to give back, donating many hours to working on houses, community gardens, and seeking donations for the organization.

Creating community gardens is another large part of the “Summer of Change,” and they have already put four in Westchester.  Habitat for Humanity is also working to get master gardeners and urban farmers into the neighborhoods that they are targeting.

With such ambitious summer plans, Habitat for Humanity is still seeking volunteers.  If you are interested in more information, please check out the Facebook site for Habitat of Westchester.

Killoran feels that this is an urgent fight to be fought.  “Our protest is not with a protest sign, it is with a hammer, and our hearts, and our sweat.  And we have to take it back now.”

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