Habitat for Humanity kicks off new fundraiser at Bridgewater build
By Veronica Slaght
The Star-Ledger
October 9, 2009

Workers and volunteers – including former New Jersey governors Tom Kean and Christie Whitman – help raise a wall of a Bridgewater house that is being constructed by Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity.

BRIDGEWATER — Somerset and Hunterdon counties are known for their affluence, yet more than 20 percent of families living in this part of the state earn less than $50,000 a year.

That’s the statistic that changed the way Judy Lewent thinks about the world’s need for affordable housing, she said today, addressing a crowd at the dedication of what will be a nine-home community in Bridgewater.

She said she had always thought the need was elsewhere, and only recently realized hard-working people need homes here, too.

Lewent, a former Merck & Co. executive, is chair of a new campaign to raise money for the Raritan Valley chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

“Today we are making an exciting step for Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity,” executive director Pam Ely said.

Among those alongside Ely today were former New Jersey governors Tom Kean and Christie Whitman.

“Everybody’s here today, and they should be,” Kean said. Speaking of the challenges for low-income New Jerseyans, he said, “This is a tough state to live in, an expensive state to live in.”

Whitman voiced her support for Habitat’s mission. “One part of it that particularly appeals to me is that they are doing everything they can to ensure that these families can afford these homes.”

And she praised Habitat for building energy efficient homes that are not only environmentally conscious, but also help keep operating costs as low as possible.

Raritan Valley Habitat built 27 houses in Somerset and Hunterdon during its first 15 years, according to Diana Pecina, development director. The nonprofit now wants to double its pace of construction, from four homes a year to eight, she said.

Towns like Bridgewater are helping identify and obtain land for Habitat homes, and the organization already has plans to build in Kingwood, which is providing the land at a “very economical cost” and will also assist with infrastructure expenses, according to Raritan Valley Habitat.

Over the next five years, the “More Homes, More Hope campaign” seeks to raise $3.5 million more than what Habitat already receives, Pecina said.

One of the families planning to move to the Bridgewater community currently lives in a
one-bedroom apartment in Phillipsburg — with 11-month-old triplets. Samantha Hurling said she and her partner, Ken Benimadho, have been living in the tiny apartment for a year.

They converted the dining room into a bedroom for the kids — Kieran, Casey and Kenard.

Hurling contacted Habitat after seeing a sign at Bridgewater Commons, she said.

Since the couple was approved, Benimadho has worked on the build site six times. And although she is usually busy caring for the triplets, Hurling has swung a hammer.
Habitat families provide from 250 to 500 hours of their own labor constructing their home.

The Hurling-Benimadho home will be a two-story house with three bedrooms and a zero-interest mortgage from Habitat.

“We can’t wait to get in there,” Hurling said.

All nine families chosen to live in Bridgewater have at least one adult working full-time, and two of the families have an adult working two jobs, according to information from Habitat.
All the families earn between 30 and 50 percent of the median income for the area.

The future residents include an auto mechanic, medical technician, meeting planner, hospital registrar, retail clerk, church musician, shipping agent, machinery mechanic and medical receptionist.

The Bridgewater project has been about four years in the making and cost about $2.75 million, Ely said.

For more information on Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity, visit www.rvhabitat.org or call (908) 704-0016.