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Habitat completes first ever Veterans Build

Home dedicated on 12th anniversary of 9/11
AmeriCorps member Lara Joyce, left, presents the key to Sussex County Habitat for Humanity's first ever veterans build home to the Hellard family (l-r) Josh, Joseph and Mari Ellyn. BY NICK ROTH
September 20, 2013

Sussex County Habitat for Humanity's latest home built by veterans for a veteran was completed just in time to dedicate it on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Let us not forget the historic tragedy of that day,” said Kevin Gilmore, executive director for Sussex Habitat. “And let us not forget the ability of our country to come together in service of each other. It is not only an activity that will get us out of hard times, but it is an activity that will get us through the times; the times of regular life. We need each other.”

The home was built for disabled Air Force veteran Mari Ellyn Hellard and her two sons, Josh and Joseph. Despite back problems, Mari Ellyn helped construct her future home. Habitat for Humanity requires all adults in the family to do at least 250 hours of service, which Mari Ellyn was more than happy to do.

“My initial thought about working with Mari Ellyn was that she was a deserving person,” said AmeriCorps member Lara Joyce. “She's a motivation and inspiration. She's a very, very hard worker.”

Mari Ellyn joked that everyone was used to seeing her walk around with her yellow future homeowner shirt on, so she added “amen!” on duct tape to the back for the dedication ceremony.

“The friendships I have made through this whole process are just incredible,” she said. “They will not end today, they will continue for the rest of my life.”

She said she looks forward to participating in future Habitat builds with her new friends.

The family is set to move into their new home in Georgetown in the coming weeks. Because Habitat for Humanity does not believe in hand outs, the organization offers the family an interest-free 30-year mortgage as a way to make home ownership more manageable.

“Next week, she will go to settlement and become a homeowner, but I know in my heart her love for Habitat and the veteran community will not stop there," said Tom Protack, community engagement director at Sussex Habitat. "She will remain a constant supporter and strong advocate for both Habitat and our heroes, our veterans."

When not helping at the build site, Mari Ellyn spent many evenings and weekends volunteering at Habitat fundraisers. Helen Bartus, chair of Habitat's Family Services Committee, said the home could not have gone to a better family.

“Working with Mari Ellyn and her family has been nothing short of an honor and privilege,” she said. “She has just been one of the most cooperative and industrious young women I have had the pleasure to work with during my time with Habitat.”

Josh was very thankful for everyone's hard work.

“It's a blessing that we have a home now,” he said, noting his old room was the size of a bathroom. “Now I have a place to do everything I need to do. I thank everyone for coming out and making that a reality.”

For more information on Sussex Habitat go to www.sussexcountyhabitat.org.