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Habitat for Humanity opens door of family's brightest dream.

Byline: Andrea Damewood The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Just off South 42nd Street, Leslie Benz's 998-square-foot "lemon chiffon pie" is ready.

"A lot of people tried to talk me out of yellow," she said Sunday afternoon, just after being handed a key to her new home built by Habitat for Humanity. "The brightness of the house, it is just joy to me."

Where once was an empty gravel lot, a two-bedroom home now stands, the first the single mother of two has ever owned - so choosing the bright color was simply icing on the cake.

Receiving a home built by Habitat for Humanity not only means her first mortgage payment, but an entirely new lease on life, Benz said.

Since beginning to help build her house along with scores of volunteers, the 48-year-old has gone from working part time and attending Lane Community College to carrying full-time hours and trying for a master's degree in business at Northwest Christian College - all while raising her 17-year-old son, Buck, who has Down syndrome.

"I got bit by the school bug, and my whole life has changed," said Benz, who also has a 24-year-old son who is a graduate of the University of Oregon. "Good things just keep happening."

Applicants for Habitat for Humanity are picked based on three criteria, area Executive Director Don Griffin said: need, ability to pay a mortgage and willingness to volunteer at least 500 hours to help build their home and contribute in other ways to the Christian nonprofit.

Every weekend, Benz would come down to the building site and lend a hand. Seeing others help out introduced her to the concept of volunteerism, she said, and she has been involved with several other activities for Habitat ever since.

She also plans to pursue grant writing as a career - a skill that could come in handy in any future volunteer work for the agency.

Griffin said it's hard not to be moved by the families who move into Habitat housing. "What's so inspiring is the joy that they find in contributing to their own well-being," he said. "It gives them hope when they may have had very little hope."

Along with keys, Benz and Buck were given a Bible and a toolbox before the doors were thrown open for a tour.

Buck was among the first in, waiting patiently for the dozens of guests to don protective booties before stepping into his new abode. He showed friends and family around the house, taking particular time to display his bedroom, which he plans to fill with hundreds of DVDs, CDs and comic books.

His room has blue carpet, his favorite color.

"It's perfect," he said.

The family will move in during the next several weeks, out of Benz's mother's home in Springfield. Over the next 20 years, Benz will pay off two-thirds of the value of the $139,000 home at no interest, with the rest subsidized by Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity homes go to families that earn 30 to 60 percent of the median income for the area, Griffin said. In a typical year, the group completes two to three homes.

The Benz house is the third and final house built by the organization on a lot purchased off South 42nd Street. Later this year, volunteers will begin work on a 10-unit lot on 49th and A streets, Griffin said.
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Title Annotation:General News; A woman receives the nearly 1,000-square-foot house she helped to build with joy and optimism for her future
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 18, 2007
Previous Article:OBITUARIES.

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