On the first day of an eight-day building blitz at Fuller’s Landing, Karen Spain and her soon-to-be neighbor, Antwon Jones, hugged and considered who would host the first barbecue.
When the development off West Cook Road on the northwest side of Fort Wayne is completed, it will be indistinguishable from other new subdivisions springing up at Fort Wayne’s edges. Fort Wayne Habitat for Humanity is building homes on similarly sized lots and in styles comparable to those in neighboring subdivisions, according to Habitat CEO Justin Berger.
You aren’t going to know that it is a Habitat neighborhood unless you knew that we were the developer and builder, Berger said. It’s going to look like every other neighborhood you drive through in Fort Wayne.
However, it is not your typical subdivision. Neighbors in this subdivision have already met, gone to classes together and worked together to satisfy the 300 hours of sweat equity required of each. They have spent time building their home as well as their neighbors’ homes, all for the opportunity to buy a new home from Habitat.
Cathy Sitcler had already completed the required 25 hours of work on the construction of her own home but continued to come every day of the blitz. She wanted to see it through from the ground up.
All these wonderful people I want to witness this experience in its fullness, she said.
Sitcler has been overwhelmed with gratitude for the 60-some volunteers – from all over the country – who showed up to help build the first three homes this month.
They are awesome, awesome folks, she said. I have made friends for a lifetime, and they are all welcome to my home anytime.
Sitcler, who works at Bethesda Lutheran Communities taking care of the special needs of intellectually and developmentally disabled residents, says family members of her clients and friends from grade school have also volunteered on the build.
Fuller’s Landing was inspired by the local Habitat chapter’s effort to build more than just affordable housing: The organization wanted to build a community.
Berger researched what other Habitat affiliates were doing and learned there was much success building new subdivisions, as opposed to the organization’s original focus on building in-fill housing in older neighborhoods.
We have been building primarily southeast, and it wasn’t attracting a lot of families that wanted to live on the southeast side, said Berger.
We decided that we had to find an area of opportunity for these families – places where these families wouldn’t think to live because of their income situation.
Jones, who works 12-hour shifts as a CNC operator at Busche, a machining company, has also been putting in sweat equity with both of his neighbors, Sitcler and Spain.
The good thing about Fuller’s Landing, Jones says, is that you are not just moving into a place that you don’t know anyone. Everyone pretty much knows everyone through the program. That helps build a community.
When everyone feels like family, it helps makes the community a better place. People will interact more with each other, he said.
Sitcler, a single mom with two grown sons, is looking forward to knowing her neighbors and having a safe environment.
When you rent, you try to meet your neighbors, and they aren’t that friendly. Some don’t even like people who rent in their neighborhood. I have been meeting these great, wonderful people, and now they are going to be my neighbors.
Spain, a single mom who works at Red Lobster, has two sons who are now in the military, a daughter who lives in a subdivision next to Fuller’s Landing and a daughter who will be attending IUPUI next fall.
The struggles I have been through yet am able to get a home. I am very blessed, she said.
She hopes residents of the neighborhoods around Fuller’s Landing who were initially skeptical of the Habitat subdivision eventually see the benefits.
I hope we just shine and show that in reality, we are just family, Spain said. I hope that we show people that this subdivision is a good thing that they brought to the surrounding community.
Sitcler said she’s hoping for a whole new outlook.
I am a homeowner, you’re a homeowner, we’re a community. We are going towatch each other’s property. I hope everyone has that feeling.
Jones is looking forward to a place that his wife, Jessica, and 3-year-old son Antwon Jr. can call their own. Jones also hopes living in the subdivision will protect his son from danger.
The things I have had to endure to get away from the violence and drugs You can’t protect your children from everything, but you can try to do something, he said.
Through this program and where (my home) is going to be, it is an opportunity for him to go to better schools, get a better education, to succeed in life – a place for my children to call home and not have to move around from place to place like I had to with my mother.
Despite the diverse backgrounds of Fuller’s Landing families, they share a wish for a better future, a sense of community, and gratitude for the opportunity they have been given.