PARKERSBURG - For 25 years, Habitat For Humanity has built houses across West Virginia and the Wood County Chapter has been going strong for almost as long with around 60 homes built locally.
This year marks Habitat's 25th Anniversary in West Virginia, having started in Preston County in 1987, said Alvin Phillips, executive director of Wood County Habitat for Humanity.
''From there, it just started spreading all over the state,'' he said. ''The Wood County Chapter was founded in 1990 and we dedicated our first house in 1991.
More than 50 volunteers from the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity from Ohio University worked throughout a weekend in February 2011 at a Habitat For Humanity building project at 4302 14th Ave. in south Parkersburg to get the house framed. Other organizations have travelled to Parkersburg to help Habitat For Humanity build houses locally.
''We have been going strong for 22 of those 25 years.''
Statewide, Habitat is celebrating its 700th house while work is underway in Wood County on its 60th, 61st and 62nd homes locally.
Habitat uses volunteer labor, donations and donated materials and land to keep homes affordable for those who wouldn't otherwise be able to own their own homes through conventional means. Habitat homebuyers are required to attend homebuyer education classes and complete "sweat equity" hours in working on a number of local Habitat projects as well as their own. The homeowners pay a zero-percent interest mortgage to buy the house from Habitat.
''The homes are not given away,'' Phillips said. ''I think people understand and appreciate the fact that we expect the families to work, we expect the families to pay and be accountable.''
In the beginning, many church organizations made up the foundation of their volunteers and then it continued to grow to include more people, businesses and others from around the community, Phillips said.
Over the course of a year, they have around 150-200 people volunteering to help on projects. The Habitat Lunch Brigade is a group of people and businesses who prepare a lunch for Habitat volunteers during a build.
''We have a really caring community here,'' Phillips said.
Ray Boso began volunteering with Habitat in 1995. He served as Wood County Habitat's Construction Supervisor from 1996 to 2005. During that time, 32 Habitat homes were completed. Wood County Habitat is honoring the 87-year-old with the establishment of the "Ray of Light Award." It will be given to outstanding Habitat volunteers in the years to come. Habitat will be unveiling the award Sunday, April 29 at Stephenson United Methodist Church on Liberty Street.
''It was a good way to honor him,'' Phillips said.
The Wood County Chapter dedicated seven homes in 2011. The local chapter has conducted blitz builds where houses, sometimes up to three, are worked on.
Many groups from around the country have stopped in Wood County to help with building homes.
Over the years, the families who were able to help build and purchase a house through Habitat are thankful to the organization and all the volunteers.
Della Lyons and her family, which included her husband and six children, were the recipients of Wood County Habitat's second built home which they moved into on May 30, 1992.
''It affected my entire family,'' she said of their children being able to grow up in a livable home. ''I am very grateful.
''I am so appreciative of all of the volunteers, then and now.''
Lyons said she often wonders where she and her family might have ended up if it wasn't for Habitat. She has been able to talk about Habitat with so many people around the community, "sharing the excitement of it."
''It brings communities together,'' she said. ''It strengthens neighborhoods.
''All aspects of the community come to work on these projects. It has been a real blessing to me on so many levels.''
Lajuana Cisneros and her family, including her husband and two children, were the recipients of Wood County Habitat's 16th built home which they moved into in January 1999.
Their home was part of a blitz build in 1998 in Mineral Wells where over 300 volunteers spent a week getting three homes up, under roof and sided.
With the uncertainty of the economy, Cisneros said having an interest-free house payment that was half of most rental payments had helped them through some lean times.
Cisneros remembers the many volunteers who helped build their home.
''There is nothing to compare it to,'' she said. ''My experience was the best experiences I have ever had.''
Her two children are now in their late-teens and think of their house as home.
''They grew up here,'' Cisneros said. ''It has been nice to have a stable place and to have roots for them.''
To help commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Habitat in West Virginia, the local Habitat chapter will be building a special home, the "World of Hope" house through a grant awarded by the Sisters of St. Joseph's Charitable Fund. The home is being built at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Rayon Drive. It is apart of 25 special-themed homes being built across the state in 2012.
Wood County Habitat for Humanity Board President Charlie Matthews said the local organization continues to grow.
''I thank all the early volunteers for their diligent efforts for laying the groundwork,'' he said. ''We rely so much on our volunteers, without whom we would be hurting.''
Phillips said the Wood County Chapter is working towards being able to do 5-7 houses a year.
It takes a lot of people to do what Habitat does.
''We have been successful, because we have had a lot of good people,'' Phillips said. ''Our goal is to keep building and looking at other ways we can help with housing.''