HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Rachel Hutchinson sees something much different in the patchy grass and dirt at 285 W. 36th Street in Holland.
As she walks along the newly paved road, lined by “under construction” yard signs, she sees the same hope she saw in a similar vacant lot 22 years ago.
“I see kids playing. I see kids having a home base, somewhere they can always come back to. And stability,” Hutchinson said.
In 1999, Hutchinson was a single mom, working a factory job, living in a run down apartment, trying to make it through the day — every day. Despite advice from those around her, she applied for a Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity and was approved.
“I got the letter and collapsed on the floor crying, which I still have my letter framed in my house now. It meant that I was gonna provide for my son what … I didn’t know that I’d be able to a month earlier. And he needed that,” Hutchinson said. “He needed his room. The room where we lived, we lived in an apartment, the building was built in the (1800s). It was a slum, the landlord didn’t care. He slept in what was kind of the dining room. I just had to convert into a nursery … and this was gonna be his home.”
This past year, Hutchinson wrote the final check on the mortgage for that house. She owns it outright and now has her grandkids over to stay in the same room that her son once called his own. She’s started her own business, gone back to school and spent time on herself. All of it she credits to the support from Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity.
“I don’t think I ever would’ve gotten ahead, not on my own. There would have to be an outside force,” Hutchinson said. “Getting connected with Habitat started the ball rolling for my son’s future, for my future. To be able to think of what I wanted to do for myself, not just my kids and my walk and faith. I mean, it all started with my connection with Habitat.”
It’s a connection that she now shares with others through her work on the board of directors. The organization has undertaken their largest project, Vista Green Development. Vista Green will be 42 affordable homes in a single neighborhood. Eighteen of those will be Habitat homes, the other 24 will be Jubilee Ministries homes. Together they hope to grow a community that once thought homeownership was not part of the picture.
“The need is so great for affordable home ownership. Houses that are under ($200,000 to $250,000) is what people need around this area and we don’t have it,” Don Wilkinson, executive director of Lakeshore Habitat for Humanity, said. “Right now Habitat and Jubilee are the only two organizations that are building anything like that.”
Apart from being its largest under taking, the project will create a unique neighborhood experience with all of the homes facing inward to promote neighbors creating meaningful relationships with each other.
“We don’t do this for fame or glory, we do this for families, we do this for the kids that have got a stable place to come home to after school, kids that’ll have a room to do their homework in,” Wilkinson said. “We’re also planning on a playscape here that Outdoor Discovery Center is gonna help us build. And when we do that it’ll be a place where kids, they have their best friends in the neighborhood that they can run around with, that they can play with and they can be a part of it. It’s just, to me, it’s just so exciting and just makes us feel like we’re doing work worth doing.”
Wilkinson said work like this wouldn’t be possible without strong community partners to help sponsor their efforts. For the premier sponsor, LG Energy Solution Michigan, Vista Greens isn’t just helping fund the work, its welcoming new neighbors.
“Vista Greens is located just around three miles from our facility,” LGESMI communication manager Val Gent said. “We are all about building a sustainable future and I think that Habitat for Humanity is all about making lives better in the future, especially for homeowners and children. I’ve seen some stats that actually say that their children’s lives improve when they become homeowners and I think that that’s incredible.”
Gent said her team at LG Energy Solution Michigan will hopefully not only be supporting the project with funding but will also be rolling up their sleeves and helping build some of the 42 homes.
“We’re committing ourselves with support that we’re going to show up and hopefully be part of the builds in the future, which I think will be really great to get our hands dirty and try to help those in need,” Gent said.
To celebrate the project, there’s a block party celebration happening in the neighborhood where those homes will soon stand. Everyone is invited to come out and support the community around them for a night of free family activities from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. There will be carnival games, a fire truck, balloons, face painting, magicians and more.
“We’re a construction company first and foremost and we really would like to have a block party to celebrate the neighborhood, to celebrate this area,” Wilkinson said. “You know, if you look around, we’ve got sidewalks all the way around this neighborhood. We want the neighbors to come and be a part of it. We want them to walk around here on the paths and really join in what we’re creating.”
They want the neighbors to join that same hope that Hutchinson saw in the seeds and to see the difference it makes when community collaborates with a watering of support.
“The people in Habitat make all the difference, the people that work for Habitat and with Habitat,” Hutchinson said “It’s not something that you’re given, you work to earn this house and then, they don’t walk away, they walk with you through it.”