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Ready to help


April 3, 2009

"I've always mixed volunteering with my work life," Ted First said, when asked about his involvement with the Chautauqua Area Habitat for Humanity, founded in 1989.

When First moved to Chautauqua 10 years ago, he was no stranger to Habitat and its mission. Noting that he was a Quaker, his first experience was in 1982 in State College, PA.

"I was a contractor and I said, 'Let's try to customize this house to fit the families.'"

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Ted and Deborah First are deeply involved in the Chautauqua Area Habitat for Humanity. Currently, they are looking for a family to become owners of a rehabilitated house outside of the village of Mayville on the Hartfield-Centralia Road. Ted believes in sharing volunteering with his work life.

Consequently, when he and his wife, Deborah, moved to Rochester in 1986, he headed for Habitat. By 1989, he was on the executive board and eventually made president.

"By that time, we went from three to 15 houses a year," he recalled.

During his tenure in Rochester, he met the founder of Habitat, Millard Fuller, who visited on a speaking tour. First spent that day with Fuller and they became friends. The two strengthened that friendship when Fuller spoke at Chautauqua, and First visited him in Americus, Georgia. Fuller died recently at age 74. The complete story of Fuller's founding history of Habitat can be found on the Habitat for Web site.

A beginning effort when settled in Chautauqua for First was to stimulate interest in providing housing in Mayville, but there was no available property at the time.

In the meantime, First became a member of Chautauqua County's Habitat Board of Directors and ultimately its president. Currently there are 11 board members representing each area. "Now we have three satellites North (the Silver Creek area), South (Jamestown and Frewsburg) and Central (Mayville)."

The headquarters is in the former Mayville Central School building in which the offices of the town of Chautauqua are located and lends its help.

"All walks of life offer help," First commented. "It's a community wide effort; it's a great partnership and we have hundreds of volunteers in the county; we share information with each other."

Forward to 2009, and First's searching has been fulfilled.

"We have two sites, one on 64 W. Chautauqua St. in Mayville; and a second lot just outside the village."

The first undertaking, and most logical, will be an existing house on Hartfield-Centralia Road (corner of Elmwood) where rehabilitation will begin soon.

"Anybody without any skills can come and learn," First urged.

Although Habitat strives to provide housing for those in need, there are requirements. One is called "sweat equity." This prerequisite is that each adult in the selected family must contribute 250 hours of help to the project. This is considered part of a "down payment." Relatives also may contribute, and there are chores for children to perform which are within their capabilities.

The family also pays "a little bit of money for the cost of the house," First said.

"The mortgage is held by Habitat and no interest is charged," he explained. "Habitat then uses its income for other houses. As an all-volunteer organization, the overhead is very low."

First is not the only one in the family to work with Habitat. Deborah, too, serves on the board as a member of the Family Committee, which trains start-up satellites. She also has served as board secretary.

First urges those families living in substandard housing who would like to become home owners in the Habitat partnership to apply before Monday, April 6 by calling 269-7772 or emailing Volunteers also are welcome to perform a variety of tasks - no experience necessary.

First may have unknowingly created a new slogan for Habitat for Humanity, at least in Chautauqua County, for everyone to heed - Mix volunteering with your work life.

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