BY RODOLFO ROMAN
The Miami Herald
Fritz Etienne found it hard to save enough money to achieve his dream of owning a home.
Then the Kentucky Fried Chicken manager applied to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, a nonprofit Christian ministry that builds affordable homes.
He was turned down.
But the Haitian-born Etienne didn’t give up.
Two years later, his persistence paid off.
On Saturday, the Georgia-based nonprofit planned to turn over the keys to his new home in Leisure City during a ceremony that celebrated Habitat’s Blitz Building that allowed his and 14 other houses to be built.
Last week, with paint brush in hand, Etienne was joined by hundreds of volunteers who helped paint and install walls at his dream home in his new neighborhood at Southwest 153rd Avenue and 287th Street.
“I kept telling my wife, `We were going to have a house,’ ” said Etienne, who has lived in an apartment in Florida City with his wife and three daughters. “Everyone asked me at work what had happened and I told them I had good news.”
In January, he was selected to be part of the Habitat program that relies on volunteers and new owners’ “sweat equity” to build homes. The Etienne house is in the newly constructed Shrader’s Haven named after land donors Clive and Janet Shrader.
The Blitz Build is an accelerated construction program that builds 10 homes in two weeks and attracts more than 2,500 volunteers. About 20 volunteers work on a single home at a time installing doors, windows, shelves, insulation, dry wall, painting and even laying out shingles on the roof.
The recent blitz in South Florida attracted so many volunteers that Habitat was able to build five more than the usual 10.
Florida International University student Lourdes Pena was one of the volunteers who turned out. She climbed on a roof to shingle.
“Getting up there is scary, but once you are up there you get in the zone,” Pena said Pena. “I just hope the people living in the house don’t get any leaks thanks to me.”
Before volunteers come on board, hired construction workers place the house shell on the foundation that will hold a 1,000-square-foot three-bedroom one-bath home. Sub contractors are also hired to help install electrical wiring, air conditioning, and plumbing. Throughout the day, Habitat staff oversees the construction.
Habitat for Humanity Communications Director Michelle Marcos says seeing all the volunteers is inspiring.
“These people want to help and want to share love with a person who is low income,” she said. “They come with the expression of `I want to help someone I don’t know.’ ”
Habitat for Humanity Greater Miami builds about 70 homes a year in neighborhoods such as Homestead, Opa-locka and Liberty City.
To qualify, possible homeowners must have low or moderate incomes.
Once in their homes, families pay off a no-interest loan that has payments they can afford.
Volunteers from local colleges, churches and major companies came out to lend a hand during Miami-Dade’s recent blitz.
The event caught the attention of pro football players such as Dolphins’ running back Ricky Williams and wide receiver Greg Camarillo. They traded pigskin for hammers and hard hats.
Snowbirds also helped out. Ron Mable, 74, who lives in Pennsylvania and has been volunteering at Habitat project for almost 15 years, said the work is gratifying.
“We get `paid’ when we turn over the house to the people who are going to live in it,” Mable said.
“When you have a lot of hands helping this goes very smoothly and quickly,” added Habitat’s Marcos.
The Leisure City project even got help from Tiandria Richardson who will soon move into her Habitat home in Liberty City.
“It’s a sacrifice, but I am able to build relationships and meet new people at the same time,” said Richardson, who worked more than 15 hours during the blitz. “I am surrounded by true leaders.”
As for Etienne, he couldn’t wait to be handed his house keys.
“I am so surprised and happy that I am going to have a house,” he said.
In a month, he added, his family will be able to move in.
Then home sweet home will truly have new meaning for his family.