Helping build a house of dreams

Deirdre Newman

Soap operas have been known to stretch the boundaries of human

credulity.

But for the Bellah family a soap opera storyline became a realty

and the catalyst for their receiving a brand new, technology-wired

house courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Orange County and The

Orange County Technology Collective.

After Romelia Bellah's daughter Charlene was born in 1999, she

began watching "Days of Our Lives". One of the storylines involved

Habitat for Humanity, a Christian-based national non-profit

organization that started in Orange County in 1998. The organization

builds homes for low-income families and usually requires the

recipients to work on the construction.

Romelia thought to herself, "why can't our family benefit from a

project like that?" The family, which lives in a mobile home in

Anaheim, applied to become eligible and was turned down the first

time. Undeterred, they persevered and on Saturday their soap opera

fantasy took the first tangible steps toward becoming a reality.

In the early morning hours, Michael Bellah donned his hard hat,

rolled up his sleeves and picked up a sledgehammer to begin the

arduous process of deconstructing what would eventually be his new

home. Joining him were about 70 other volunteers, whose hammers and

saws punctuated the air as deconstruction also started on new houses

for five other low-income families on the property on Pomona Street

in Costa Mesa.

The Habitat Technology Project is the first one in Orange County

that will include access to computers, the Internet and technology

training.

"It's not enough to put a family in an affordable house, you need

to get the kids to the next step of education," said Pete Major,

Habitat's executive director.

Habitat for Humanity got involved with the project when Costa Mesa

officials asked the organization for help with the blighted property,

which currently contains three two-story buildings. Two of the

buildings will be transformed into four townhomes. The third building

will become a single-family home and another single family home will

be built on the back of the lot, representing Habitat for Humanity's

100th home in Orange County. In a strike of synchronicity, around the

same time Habitat for Humanity came on board, 10 regional technology

associations got together and decided to collaborate and contribute

to a charity.

The Orange County Technology Collective chose Habitat for Humanity

and raised $9,000 at its first-ever fund-raiser. These funds will go

toward installing the technology in the new homes and training the

residents.

The entire project has site sponsors as well as sponsors for the

six new homes. One of the home sponsors is Experian, a Costa

Mesa-based information technology company.

On Saturday, Don Girard, director of community relations, was one

of a dozen of company volunteers knocking down walls. The company is

giving each employee that signs up a paid day off to volunteer for

the project.

"We've always had a robust community involvement," Girard said.

"We recently relocated from Orange to Costa Mesa and looked for ways

to get our employees more meaningfully involved in the community."

The requirement for the adult residents to each pitch in 250 hours

of "sweat equity" is beneficial for everyone involved, said Major.

The volunteers gain a personal relationship by working

side-by-side with the residents, Major said.

"You really know who you're helping," Major said. "It's quite a

different experience than sending a check off to someone and they

send a thank-you not but you don't get to see and touch and feel."

And for prospective residents like Mayela Razo, who will be moving

with her four children and grandmother into one of the single-family

homes, it's a rewarding opportunity to contribute to her family's

future.

"I'm so excited," Razo said. "I can't wait for this to be

finished. I will work for more than the 250 hours because there's a

lot of work to be done."

* DEIRDRE NEWMAN covers education. She may be reached at (949)

574-4221 or by e-mail at deirdre.newman@latimes.com.

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