Source: Ottumwa Courier

By Matt Milner

OTTUMWA — Arreva Wofford was excited on Saturday. It’s not often that one of the first guests you welcome to your new home is a U.S. Senator.

For Sen. Joni Ernst, it was a visit to a Habitat for Humanity project, something she had never before done. For Wofford, it was a step closer to the home she and her two children will move into later this year.

“I heard them say at the end of the summer. Before that it was going to be later before we could move in,” Wofford said. “I just feel so blessed.”

Habitat bills itself as a hand up, not a handout. The organization renovates or builds homes for people who otherwise probably couldn’t afford to have their own place. The new owners have to put in at least 200 hours of sweat equity and pay off only their mortgage costs — no interest.

For Wofford, as with just about any new homeowner, the opportunity to have a home to call her own is a big deal. It ends the question of whether rent will go up and removes the possibility of the landlord selling the property you’re living in. It means stability, predictability.

Saturday’s visit is part of Ernst’s effort to go to each of Iowa’s 99 counties each year. The trek that has been nicknamed a “full Grassley” after longtime Sen. Chuck Grassley, who visits each county at least once a year.

“We are out on our 99-county tour. We’re looking for educational opportunities, groups that will let us experience what they are doing,” Ernst said.

She added that, while she has long been aware of the program, this was her first time visiting a Habitat house.

Dave Frushour is an old hand, by comparison. A past president of the Ottumwa Habitat organization, he said he is very encouraged by how few people he recognized working on the house Saturday. It means new people are continuing to become involved.

The house on Wabash Avenue has ties to the city’s efforts to sell vacant properties, according to Frushour.

“We bought two lots from the city. We’ve bought a lot of lots from the city. This is one of them,” he said.

The Wabash site wound up being a completely new build. When finished the project will be a three-bedroom house with something in the neighborhood of 1,200 square feet. Ron Downing has been deeply involved with it, along with his students from the building and trades program in Ottumwa.

Cold weather over the winter delayed some parts of the project, but others have come together so fast they’ve made up some time.

“Last Friday we got the windows,” Downing said. “They were installed almost right off the truck.”

It’s not just Ottumwa students who have pitched in. Downing cited Pekin High School and a lot of volunteers from John Deere. For Nathan Cary and Caleb Woten, the work was a preview of a possible career. Both said they think construction might fit their future, and Cary is even going to the University of Northern Iowa next year to study construction management.

So there were more people in Wofford’s living room — what will be her living room, anyway — than normal on Saturday. And, though you won’t see it when the home is completed, she’ll have a senator’s signature on some of the framing in the walls.

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