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Originally published Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 01:39p.m.

CORRECTION

In a Nov. 15 story “Habitat for Humanity homeowner gets keys” that published Nov. 15, we incorrectly reported that ground broke for the home December 2016.

A ground breaking ceremony took place in December 2016, but ground officially broke for the home in June 2017.

Verde Valley Newspapers apologizes for the error.

COTTONWOOD – “What this house means to me and Jamie - a second chance. For Jamie and I to have a safe home to live in and come to every night. Where some individuals don’t have that,” expressed Rachel Hernandez during an emotional speech Monday morning.

Hernandez, during her open house ceremony, was given the keys to her new Habitat for Humanity home.

A ground breaking ceremony took place December 2016 at the 800 block of Cherry Hills Way in Cottonwood. Ground officially broke for the home in June.

Tania Simms, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of the Verde Valley, spoke about Hernandez’ journey and the organization’s mission.

Hernandez’ family has lived in the Verde Valley for five generations. She was raised in Clarkdale, but eventually left the Verde Valley with her now ex-husband to Casa Grande. Hernandez worked in a nursing home as an activities director, and also provided private home health care, she said.

She has been a caregiver most of her life - Hernandez devotes her time to take care of 19-year-old Jamie Valenzuela, who was injured at birth with Brachial Plexus Erb’s Palsy.

When the mother and son returned to the Verde Valley, they had nowhere to call home.

“Every American deserves to have some place where they can call their permanent home,” said Hernandez in a previous interview.

She said Habitat for Humanity has given her a chance – a hand-up, not a hand-out, and she appreciates it. Because otherwise, she continued, she wouldn’t be able to afford a place at her current income level and as a single parent. “I prayed for a home, and God has given me that blessing,” she said during the groundbreaking ceremony last year.

Monday, Simms and Hernandez thanked countless sponsors, donors, and volunteers that made it happen.

“Now what does the future look for us? Well it’s bright. A lot brighter,” said Hernandez during the open house.

“Full of wonderful memories and laughter with family, and friends for the future that will come. That will come and have dinner with us and experience Jamie’s cooking and baking that he wants to do in this kitchen. It’s been a lot of hard work. But the biggest, greatest gift is giving this home to my son, Jamie,” said Hernandez with a quivering voice.

“So he has a roof over his head. And nobody can ever throw us out of any other home that we’ve been in and I thank you all for coming,” she said through tears.

Simms then gave Hernandez a bible and a set of house keys.

“We have a Habitat for Humanity keychain, so that you’ll always remember every time you open your door, all of the love and hard work that went into your home,” said Simms.

Redirecting people to a better path

The process to apply for a house is not quick nor easy.

“We give a hand up, not a hand out. Our homeowners have to go through an application process just like anyone who is applying for a home,” said Simms.

They must follow the same federal regulations, rules, and requirements.

“She went through the process. For us it can be a little slow because it can be very challenging for our homeowners to go through that process and become approved qualified home owners. Our program requires so much more out of a home owner applicant than just someone who’s applying for a home on the market,” continued Simms.

Hernandez submitted her application and passed the required extensive background checks. She was willing to be a partner.

“In partnering, they are partnering and working with us to build their home. They are required to complete so many hours of sweat equity and that is what is Rachel is doing.

She has to complete - as an approved home owner - 50 hours of sweat equity before we break ground, and that can be done in a variety of ways,” said Simms.

Sweat equity refers to the actual hands-on involvement of prospective homeowners in the construction of their home and in other organization activities.

Along with sweat equity, the approved applicant must give a $1,000 down payment, pay for closing costs, and repay the organization through a 20-30 year mortgage.

The program also offers workshops to teach and make sure applicants can be stable when they get their home.

“Our goal is not ‘here is a home. Good luck.’ Our goal is to make sure that you are on a better path when you get into that house,” said John McTurk, fund development and communications director.

Habitat for Humanity is an opportunity to help people get redirected to that better path, he said.

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