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Designs on a new life -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Designs on a new life

In 2009, Elaine and Amable Mas moved into their own home in Naples, Florida, with their son, Marcus, a pre-med student on scholarship at the
prestigious Columbia University. The Habitat for Humanity home allowed them to move into a safer neighborhood and still save money for Marcus’
education. ©Habitat for Humanity of Collier County/Jennifer Pash

One determined family makes the transition from surviving to thriving
By Julie Gurnon


The Mas family’s home is one of 204 attached villas in Naples’ Trail Ridge subdivision. Before, the family lived in a cramped apartment in a complex plagued by drugs and crime. ©Habitat for Humanity of Collier County/Jennifer Pash


Elaine Mas’ design style is evident in every room of the family’s house. Husband Amable and a friend installed all the tile in the kitchen. ©Habitat for Humanity of Collier County/Jennifer Pash


Elaine Mas loves home decorating, and by the look of her family’s Habitat for Humanity home in Naples, Florida, she has a real talent for it.

“Inside and outside, it is one of the most beautiful homes in the neighborhood,” said Lisa Lefkow, executive vice president of development at Habitat for Humanity of Collier County.

The home is one of 204 attached villas in the Trail Ridge subdivision, where the Mas family has lived since 2009.

Before then, Elaine and her husband, Amable, lived with their son, Marcus, then 16, in a cramped, two-bedroom apartment in Naples. Amable was a custodian at Golden Gate High School, and Elaine worked in the rental office of the apartment complex where they lived.

The complex was densely populated and notorious for drugs and crime. And the rent took nearly 40 percent of the couple’s incomes.

The Mases worried that Marco would fall in with the wrong crowd in the neighborhood, so they rarely let him out of the apartment unsupervised.

Nevertheless, Elaine Mas was determined to make the best of their situation.

“Even in the run-down conditions, Elaine’s flair for decorating and her dedication to keeping her house warm and welcoming made the apartment seem homey,” Lefkow said.

The family got the chance to purchase their own home through Collier County Habitat for Humanity — founded in 1978 as Habitat for Humanity of Immokalee — and one of its earliest and most enduring partners, the United Church of Marco Island.

The longtime partnership between Habitat and the church is a testament not only to Habitat for Humanity’s Christian roots, but also to the central role that faith communities play in Habitat’s mission to eliminate poverty housing worldwide.

Rooted in faith

In the fellowship hall at the United Church of Marco Island, 16 plaques hang neatly on one wall. Each bears the name and photo of a partner family who has moved into a Habitat home built with funds and volunteer labor from the church.

Since 2001 alone, the church has sponsored a dozen homes, including that of the Mases. Typically, the church sponsors one house per year, but a matching-gift campaign in 2012 raised enough to build two houses that year.

Back in the 1970s, Robert A. Olsen and his wife, Amy, were Church of the Brethren volunteers. They had come to help the migrant farmworkers who harvested the fruits and vegetables grown in the vast fields surrounding Immokalee, an unincorporated area located about an hour’s drive northeast of Naples and Marco Island. The farmworkers, who were paid horribly low wages, lived in deplorable housing and suffered from hunger and untreated illnesses.

Through a series of connections, the Olsens met Millard and Linda Fuller, co-founders of Habitat for Humanity in south Georgia, and established Immokalee Habitat for Humanity in 1978. Twenty years later, the affiliate expanded to serve all of Collier County — which includes Marco Island — and the name was changed to reflect the larger service area.

The Rev. Richard T. Disseler, pastor of the United Church of Marco Island in 1978, was one of the first people Olsen called for support in creating Immokalee Habitat. Disseler, now retired and living in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee, remembers being unsure about working with Habitat at first, because the concept of partnership housing was new and unfamiliar. But once he realized the difference it could make in his community, he joined the original board of directors at Immokalee Habitat, and his church members donated time and money to build four of the affiliate’s first 11 homes.

“There’s something about being so close to a project, a hands-on project where our members could pound nails and build a house right next to the people who were going to live there,” Disseler said. “Our members really got ahold of it, because with Habitat, you could see it and touch it.”

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