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Habitat offers its own 'Makeover'

At this very moment, “Extreme Makeover” is causing quite a ripple in Kingston. The popular ABC reality show, which flamboyantly renovates the homes of in-need families, has selected a local family as beneficiaries of its largesse. And by Wednesday, when the completed house is unveiled after a frenzied week of construction, the show will have irrevocably impacted the family’s life and left its own mark on the community.

This is a story people will tell for years to come.

“Extreme Makeover” is an anomaly on the reality show landscape. It does not force anyone to eat vermin or wreak desert island havoc. It doesn’t require participants to stab colleagues in the back or compete for the affections of a vapid vixen. It stands above because it actually helps people and because it has roots in, of all things, reality.

Once the show packs up and moves on, its work will continue, with a somewhat lower profile.

Since 1992, Kitsap County has hosted an active chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the Christian relief group that builds homes for people in need.

“We do things quite differently than ‘Extreme Makeover,’ ” said Habitat direc-tor Lori Oberlander. “Obviously we don’t have the resources they do. And our selection process is a lot different. But anything that brings public attention to poverty-level housing conditions is good.”

Despite this resource imbalance, the similarities between the show and Habitat are too numerous to be coincidental.

They both have an application process, with “winners” selected on the basis of the greatest need. Both pull together the community and its resources to complete the house in the shortest possible time.

Both fabricate certain components elsewhere and assemble them on-site, and both change the lives of anyone lucky enough to be selected.

Habitat has built 25 homes in Kitsap County so far and is just getting started. Currently, the agency is executing plans for a 198-unit Bremerton development called New Hope, which will vastly expand local low-income housing options.

Said Oberlander, “When we complete New Hope, we will match what we have done here so far with one action.”

Since it doesn’t have a TV network to pay the bills, Habitat’s path is slow and deliberate.

By comparison, “Extreme Makeover” works at light speed. The show put out a call for participants in August and the family will move in before Dec. 1. With Habitat, the selection takes longer and participants must invest “sweat equity” in other projects before beginning their own home.

In most cases, the process will take 18 to 24 months for completion.

One similarity between the show and Habitat is the need for careful planning. The makeover will be finished in less than a week, a schedule common to many Habitat projects.

In order for this to work, Oberlander said, the crew must carefully coordinate all aspects of the project, like the pieces of a puzzle.

Habitat’s structures are nothing fancy. There are no ornate light fixtures, doorknobs or jacuzzis. They follow a basic no-frills plan built for an individual’s needs. The top-of-the line design is a four-bedroom structure with 1,100 square feet.

The loans — arranged without interest — usually result in a mortgage of around $350. While this is a lot less than comparable buildings, Habitat keeps a close eye on the real value.

It conducts an appraisal before the clients move in. Should they sell the house, they would be responsible for finding a buyer who would pay that price.

But this doesn’t happen a lot, according to Oberlander. Of 25 homes constructed in eight years, only one owner sold his Habitat home.

“These people are really proud to be homeowners,” she said. “They are thrilled and proud. Often the house represents more than what they thought they would ever accomplish.”

Volunteers provide Habitat’s heart. There are about 350 members of the Kitsap network, who regularly band together for a meaningful weekend of creative housebuilding.

And they are actively recruiting volunteers of all levels. This can be an opportunity for people to learn their way around a hammer and graduate to more intricate skills — like drywall.

“This is a way people can really make a difference in the community,” Oberlander said. “You can accomplish something that takes shape right before your eyes.”

For more information or to volunteer, call (360) 479-3853 or log on to www.kitsaphabitat.org.

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