Volunteers from Wesley Chapel Toyota & Honda, the main sponsor of the ‘Raise the Roof’ project at the Shops at Wiregrass mall, work on a previous project for Habitat for Humanity of East & Central Pasco. Photo: Eric Johnson
Volunteers from Wesley Chapel Toyota & Honda, the main sponsor of the ‘Raise the Roof’ project at the Shops at Wiregrass mall, work on a previous project for Habitat for Humanity of East & Central Pasco. Photo: Eric Johnson

By Matt Wiley |
WESLEY CHAPEL — With all of the residential communities located within minutes of the Shops at Wiregrass mall, it may seem strange to see a home actually being built at the busy shopping destination. However, the construction of the house is part of a project by Habitat for Humanity (HFH) of East & Central Pasco that, upon completion, will be deconstructed and moved to its permanent location where a family in need will get to call it their home.

Beginning on May 17 at mall, a group of volunteers from HFH of East & Central Pasco, part of the non-profit Christian ministry that builds homes for families in need worldwide, will take part in “Raise the Roof,” an event that will begin constructing the walls of what will become the first HFH home built in the Wesley Chapel area. “This Wesley Chapel home will be this HFH chapter’s 120th home to date,” says Stephanie Black, director of development and public relations for Habitat of East & Central Pasco, which has built and rehabilitated homes in Dade City, Zephyrhills, Lacoochee and Land O’ Lakes.

Black explains that land prices have been the issue that has kept HFH from building in the Wesley Chapel area, until now. Recently, she says, Pasco County Community Development donated a building lot to HFH in Wesley Chapel.

“We hope this home and the occupants will always be examples of what can be accomplished through caring people and the HFH program,” she says. “Habitat doesn’t give away homes; it gives opportunity.” The event challenges local businesses and individuals to help eliminate poverty housing by donating some time, sweat and a few dollars to helping build a quality home for a local family in need.

Once the project is completed at the Shops at Wiregrass, the walls will be deconstructed in sections and then transported to the home’s permanent site on Brahma Dr. in Angus Valley, located off Old Pasco Rd., north of S.R. 54, an area from which Habitat hopes to have more land donated for future homes.When the 1,100-sq.-ft., three-bedroom, two-bathroom home is completed at its permanent site, Daisy Soto and her two young sons, ages six and nine, will move in. Soto, a single mom and Saddlebrook Resort employee, currently is renting a mobile home.

Soto, too, will be helping with the construction of the home as part of the deal, in addition to helping with other Habitat projects.

“(HFH) helps hard-working families purchase a simple, decent home of their own,” Black explains. “Habitat uses volunteer labor to help keep costs down, and then sells the home with no down payment and a zero-percent-interest mortgage.”

The mortgage payments, which the homeowner is responsible for paying over 30 years, go towards building additional homes. So, HFH homeowners pay it forward, literally, helping more families get into a decent home with each payment.

The Habitat event already has drawn extensive support from the community in the form of donations and sponsors, especially from Wesley Chapel Toyota & Honda, both of which are located off S.R. 54 next to I-75.

“HFH is one of best philanthropic opportunities in the area for us,” says Eric Johnson, director of community relations for Wesley Chapel Toyota & Honda. “We take a very hands-on approach to charity work. HFH is perfect because it allows us to get out there in the community and learn to work together. Instead of only writing a check, donating time to HFH provides a real experience.”

Johnson says that he has been working with HFH since Black came in and purchased a vehicle a few years ago.

“I was looking for another charity option for the dealerships,” he explains. “I had heard that she had come in, and I had done some HFH work in college. We got to talking and it worked out perfectly.”

Johnson says that the dealership’s decision to sponsor “Raise the Roof” was due in part to finding out that it would be the first HFH home in the Wesley Chapel area.

“We’ve done so much with HFH that we decided to sponsor the home,” Johnson says. “We’ll be sending employees out frequently to work on it once it gets moved to its final location. However, on Friday of ‘Raise the Roof,’ we’ll have the managers out (at Wiregrass) helping out, and the accountants on Saturday!”

Other sponsors of “Raise the Roof” include Florida Medical Clinic’s Foundation of Caring, Batson-Cook Construction, Wells Fargo Bank, Zephyrhills Water, First National Bank of Pasco, Sun- Trust Bank, Sign-A-Rama of New Tampa, Ierna’s Heating & Cooling and Honey Baked Ham of Wesley Chapel.

Since 1994, HFH of East & Central Pasco has been building homes throughout Pasco County. In addition to building the houses, the organization also runs two discount home improvement stores called ReStore, which sell heavily discounted new and gently-used home-building supplies. Black says that most of the items for sale are donated by local retail businesses, building contractors, suppliers and giving individuals. ReStore even offers free pickup of the donated items six days per week in all of east and central Pasco County.

Black explains that, through a new partnership with Recycle That, LLC, an organization that collects and recycles unwanted household items, ReStores now also accept used and worn clothing, shoes, fashion accessories and linens. If the items are unable to be reused, they are recycled. Profits from the store, which has locations in both Zephyrhills and Dade City, go toward refurbishing homes and building new ones in the area.

Another program that HFH employs is called Cars for Homes, which is almost exactly what it sounds like. Unwanted vehicles, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, farm or construction equipment, boats and even airplanes can be donated to HFH, whose authorized partner, Advanced Remarketing Services, Inc., handles the title transfer, towing and vehicle donation reporting before selling the car to a new owner. Proceeds made from the sale of the unwanted car go to benefit the local chapter of HFH, in this case the HFH of East & Central Pasco.

HFH is still looking for volunteers for “Raise the Roof” and Johnson knows that the volunteer hours and work are worth it. “I’ve been to several home dedications,” he explains. “I’ve seen the families get the keys for the first time. It’s a neat aspect of the project. From the wall framing to the keys, it really brings it all into perspective. Seeing the difference that HFH makes for each family is amazing.”

The “Raise the Roof” begins at 9 a.m. on Friday, May 17, at the Shops at Wiregrass mall, located at 28211 Paseo Dr. To get involved, visit HabitatPasco.org and click on the “Wiregrass Build” tab. Pre-registration is required and volunteers must be 16 years of age or older. Lunch, water and Gatorade are included and morning or afternoon shifts are available. For more information, please call (352) 567-1444.

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