Giving families a place to call home for the holidays and year-round

Liana Escobar, left, helped build her own home through a thousand hours of labor with help from Habitat for Humanity. Her mother Lucia, right, contributed many hours as well.
Liana Escobar, left, helped build her own home through a thousand hours of labor with help from Habitat for Humanity. Her mother Lucia, right, contributed many hours as well.

In the spirit of Christmas, which is the spirit of giving, we need to acknowledge a group of people who give throughout the year – not just dollars, but hours; not just encouragement, but physical labor. They are the volunteers of Habitat for Humanity.

Los Banos has been fortunate to have a Habitat affiliate for many years. Volunteers of the Habitat for Humanity Westside Merced County have helped build or renovate more than 20 homes over the past two decades. That means homes for 20 families who otherwise might not have been able to afford a house of their own.

In last week’s column, I mentioned two of these homes, built on M Street in the last few years on land donated by retired Judge Tomar Mason. This week, I will write in more detail about Habitat for Humanity. So I spoke to Ashlee Williams, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Westside Merced County.

First, she wants to encourage Los Banos residents to ring in the new year with a good cause by coming to the Habitat fundraiser, ’Round Midnight.

The New Year’s Eve celebration will be at the Lopes Barn (17409 Cotton Rd.) starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $65 per person, and include a steak and scampi dinner, dessert, two drink tickets and a midnight champagne toast. To get yours, call Ashlee at 209 509-9026.

The cause is worthy and the local Habitat volunteers deserve support – women and men who, partnering with families who work a minimum of 500 hours on their homes, cumulatively donate hundreds of days of skilled and unskilled labor each year.

All proceeds from local fundraising go directly into local projects, an important point since Habitat gets no government funding and relies on local support to build and renovate homes.

Habitat for Humanity, Ashlee told me, is a global nonprofit housing organization working in local communities across all 50 states and in more than 70 countries. “Habitat’s vision is of a world where everyone has a decent place to live,” she said. Habitat fulfills its vision by building strength, stability and self-reliance in partnership with people and families in need of a decent home.

In return for hundreds of hours of their own labor, families unable to afford a down payment are set up in their own home with an affordable mortgage payment.

Williams pointed to the example of Andrea Liana Escobar’s family. Liana is a single mother of two children, a 16-year-old daughter, Destiny, and a 15-year-old son, Israel.

Liana was born and raised in Los Banos, where she lives with her children and parents. She works at Lowe’s of Gilroy and has commuted 50 miles each day for the last 10 years to provide for her family.

Construction on Liana’s house began in 2016. She has worked well over 1,000 volunteer hours on the building, while recruiting friends, family (including her mother) and colleagues to help complete the project.

Liana’s employer, Lowe’s, stepped up and partnered with Habitat “to educate, inspire and empower Liana and other women to ... gain skills through building or improving affordable housing.”

Liana’s house, on M Street, is complete.

“The process has been long and many sacrifices have been made,” Ashlee said, “Liana is determined and resilient and has always remained eager to learn new skills and learn new parts of home construction. Habitat Westside is happy to have Liana as a partner.”

Habitat for Humanity Westside Merced County continues to build, as Ashlee put it, “homes, community and hope.” She encourages persons in Los Banos to volunteer or to donate to the local affiliate by going to its website, habitatwestside.org, or by sending an email to ashleeangell@ hotmail.com.

The need is great, she said, for help on local projects.

Ashlee said the local affiliate’s resale shop, the Habitat ReStore, which had been serving Los Banos on Sixth Street for many years, will be reopening in 2019.

Anyone who wants to make a difference, or just to keep the spirit of Christmas alive beyond Dec. 25, should volunteer or donate to organizations like Habitat for Humanity Westside Merced County.

There are so many people in our community in need, and those of us who have been blessed with time, health or resources can respond by giving of ourselves.

IN MEMORIAM: My heart, and the hearts of hundreds of Los Banos residents, go out to Sherry Pearson on the death of her beloved husband, Jim, such a personable, friendly, caring man. Jim is now Sherry’s guardian angel, who will continue – in another dimension – to cheer and protect her.

John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email john.spevak@gmail.com.