June 13, 2007 11:00 pm

Home Ownership is still the American Dream.

Grande Ronde Valley Habitat for Humanity Inc. builds simple, decent, affordable homes in partnership with volunteers, the community and hard-working Oregon families to transform lives and neighborhoods by enabling low-income families to achieve the dream of owning a home.

To see the smile on a kid's face at the site of discovering their own room for the first time, is priceless. Not to mention the pride of ownership that comes to the whole family as they invest in their own future one nail at a time.

Through Habitat the whole community is invited to add your unique gifts to the mix that makes this work possible. So many times one feels like they can't make a difference in that big impersonal world "out there," but through your local Habitat affiliate you can make a real difference in the quality of life right here and right now.

Our volunteers find an endless variety of ways to serve. Many support the work through regular contributions from their pocket book. Others paint or feed the work crews. Still others donate materials and equipment. There are endless ways to contribute and we need everyone's support.

To participate with Habitat for Humanity, a family must meet five qualifications:

1. Currently living in substandard housing.

2. Have the ability to repay a 0 percent interest mortgage based on a decent work and credit history.

3. Willing to complete 500 hours of sweat equity helping build their home and other Habitat homes and attend financial fitness classes that teach them how to protect their investment and manage their money.

4. Income that falls within 25 percent to 60 percent of the median income for Union County (currently it is $49,300 a year for a family of four).

5. Must be a legal, permanent resident or U.S. citizen.

GRVHFH sells the home to the family at cost and acts as the lender, setting the mortgage payments below the 30 percent of that family's gross income. The homeowners' monthly mortgage payments are used to build still more Habitat houses.

Habitat for Humanity sees less than a 1 percent default rate on Habitat mortgages. To date Oregon Habitat affiliates have built 700 homes across the state, giving a home to more that 3,500 Oregonians of which 22 live in Union county. We are currently completing our fourth home.

Thanks to the Ford Family Foundation who are the owners of Roseburg Lumber Company, we have just received notice that they will award us a $25,000 challenge grant effective July 1, which will provide you with an opportunity to double the impact of your contributions. Because of their belief in giving back to rural Oregon, this means that your $500 contribution in now worth $1,000 or your $100 donation is now worth $200. With your support, we can add another family to the homeowners list and the proceeds from that home will support still others.

Also keep an eye out for us at the Elgin RiverFest on June 16. We plan to have a booth there. Bring your kids and let them build a Habitat Bird House while you find out about more about Habitat activities in this area. We also plan to have a booth at the Union County Fair this year, so look for us there, also.

Finally, please contact us at 663-9515 to sign on as a volunteer. Send your tax- deductible donations to Grande Ronde Valley Habitat for Humanity Inc., P.O. Box 111, La Grande 97850. Please remember to date your donations July 1 or after in order to take advantage of the Ford Family's generous offer.

David Still is the former CEO of the Center for Human Development and is a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.