Dedication celebrates final home in Greeneville’s Habitat for Humanity neighborhood
Norwich ― When Sara Lufler took over as executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut last January, she looked out at a large parcel of mud and partially constructed homes where the agency planned to complete construction of 10 new homes by the fall.
On Friday evening, Lufler, and about 25 Habitat volunteers, staff and family and friends celebrated the completion of the house of new homeowners Jose Berroa and Martina Florian-Berroa at 53 Margerie St. The house is the 10th and final Habitat home built in the new neighborhood created from a parcel of overgrown weeds between Margerie and Sylvester streets.
“My first day last January, I don’t know that I saw the end,” Lufler told the gathering at the dedication ceremony Friday. “I saw a lot of mud and I didn’t understand at that time how it was going to come together. So, thank you to anyone who had any part in that. It’s a heck of an achievement.”
The couple and Habitat officials hope to complete the mortgage closing by the end of this year. The family set to move into the ninth home in the neighborhood should close on their mortgage next week, Lufler said.
Jose Berroa, 63, said he and his wife, 53, thanked God and Habitat officials and volunteers for helping them realize their dream of homeownership. Berroa has lived in the United States since 1993. He met Martina on a visit to his Dominican Republic homeland in 2011, and they were married a year later. She was able to move to the United States in 2016. They now live in New London, and Floria-Berroa works at Faria Beede Instruments Inc. in Stonington.
Berroa addressed the gathering in Spanish, and Habitat homeowner support partner John Fortunato read an English translation.
“Rest assured that we will never forget what you had done for us,” Berroa said. “It is our prayer and wish that others can have this beautiful experience that my wife and I are experiencing now. Today, we can say, ‘Thank God we have our own house!”
Their new neighbor, Ivelisse Mota, has been friends with Floria-Berroa for about four years and told her about “the wonderful Habitat program” and urged her to try to qualify for a Habitat home. Mota’s daughter, Eva Eheander, had told her mother and stepfather about the program. Mother and daughter now are next-door neighbors in Habitat homes.
The $2 million, 10-home construction project is the largest for Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut. Habitat received financial support for the project with $600,000 from the city of Norwich through its federal American Rescue Plan Act grant and two $500,000 grants from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.
“Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just bring new life to a house,” said Norwich Alderwoman Stacy Gould, representing the city. “It brings new life to a family. It brings new life to a street, to a neighborhood, to a community.”
As the ceremony progressed, including the traditional gifts – a prayer shawl, quilt and toolbox -- and presentation of the house keys to the family, friends and relatives continued to arrive carrying pots and trays of food into the new kitchen to help celebrate.
Lufler said Habitat is leaving Greeneville for now but will remain active in Norwich. Norwich provided another $300,000 in ARPA funds to help Habitat either rehabilitate or build new homes on vacant land. Three such projects are in the works.
Habitat will return to the Margerie-Sylvester Greeneville neighborhood in the spring, using a $6,700 grant from Hubbell Inc. to plant trees, install solar lights and fences to better define each home’s yard, said Tara Filip, Habitat’s director of mission advancement and integration.
Habitat families must qualify for mortgages for their homes, with Habitat owning the land in a no-cost lease arrangement. Families typically contribute hundreds of hours of so-called sweat equity labor on their homes and other Habitat homes under construction at the time. They also must attend homeownership and financial management classes.
Eva and her husband, Alex Eheander and their four children, ranging in age from 7 to 14 years, live at 46 Sylvester St.
“We love our new house. We love our neighbors,” Eva Eheander said. “For me, it was life- changing. I feel incredibly blessed.”