Habitat for Humanity continues to open doors to families in Waukesha

Diane McGeen (from left), executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County, stands with Paw LuLu and Shee Ro and their children at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of their new home on Saturday, June 21, in the Dunbar Oaks Subdivision.
Published on: 6/24/2014

Not even a dreary, overcast morning could dampen the mood on this day.

Smiles were all around the Dunbar Oaks Subdivision in Waukesha as one family cut the ribbon on a new home, while another started their journey in home ownership as part of the Habitat for Humanity program.

And there was optimism and hope throughout the now thriving neighborhood, located at the former site of the Waukesha YWCA, in the central part of the city just southwest of Cutler Park and east of Bethesda Spring Park.

"We help people get in houses and make their dreams come true," said Diane McGeen, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County.

2-for-1 celebration

The special moment was even extra special for the Waukesha County program officials — it marked the first time they did a joint ribbon cutting and groundbreaking ceremony on the same day in the same neighborhood.

"It was so emotional," McGeen said. "These families never imagined in their wildest dreams that this would happen."

"It was very touching and cool to see," added Andrew Garrison, who works in Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County's Marketing and Resource Development Department.

Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ro family at its new home on Saturday, June 21, at 302 N. West Ave. The Ros are Burmese natives who spent most of their lives in a refugee camp in Thailand.

The moment added to the family's recent good fortune. Shee Ro, father of the family, was just granted American citizenship last week, McGeen said.

"That's pretty neat," McGeen said. "And the family is just so excited to have a new home of their own."

Minutes after the Ro house was blessed, the community celebrated the introduction of another Habitat family to the neighborhood. A groundbreaking ceremony was held down the street at 330 N. West Ave.

That family, only identified as Frank and Francine — Frank's name was being withheld for safety reasons tied to political issues he faced in his homeland in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — was forced to leave its African home and are now looking to rebuild their lives in Waukesha.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers and the new family will begin work on the home later this summer.

"The homes will be a mirror image of each other," Garrison said. "We try to make the homes fit into the neighborhood."

Neighborhood makeover

The Ro family is the fifth family in the last few years the Waukesha County Habitat group has placed in this neighborhood, one that has undergone an expansive makeover.

Previously, the site was the location of the old YWCA building, 306 N. West Ave., which was demolished in 2010. The 84-year-old YWCA had been closed since 2004 when it encountered financial troubles.

To help redevelop what had become an eyesore, the city of Waukesha received a federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development worth $850,000 to acquire the YWCA building and create a subdivision of homes valued at $150,000 to $200,000. The project called for 11 lots — eight-single family and three two-family lots of low to moderate income.

A new two-family Habitat for Humanity home was completed in 2012 and another on Bethesda Court was finished last year.

New habitats

McGeen said Habitat for Humanity received a Community Development Block Grant to purchase its most recent lots at the Waukesha County Treasurer's auction last year.

Habitat is now planning to rehabilitate a home in Waukesha, a new undertaking for the organization.

The house at 612 Scott St. is being refurbished through the Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Workforce Development Board's Building Futures Program, a partnership between Waukesha County Technical College and Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County.

McGeen said over the last 25 years, Habitat for Humanity has built one or two houses a year, though in some years no homes were built.

"We want to keep ramping that number up," McGeen said.

Habitat for Humanity also will begin work this year for a new home on Hamilton Avenue, just south of Bethesda Spring Park.

New funding source

And while many of the recent homes that have been built are in the city of Waukesha, McGeen said she wants Habitat for Humanity's territory to expand its reach in the county. However, she said one of the problems is land in Waukesha County is so expensive.

To address that reality, and other funding needs, Habitat continues to look for other sources of revenue, McGeen said.

One of those is a new a ReStore in Waukesha's Westbrook Shopping Center on East Moreland Boulevard. The store, which could open by the end of summer or early fall, will sell new and used construction, household goods, furniture and appliances.

"It's a good location and has good visibility," McGeen said.

The same can now be said about the Dunbar Oaks Subdivision.