Danna Plumber, chair of the Faithful Builders Coalition, says a prayer over the new homeowner, her son and home dedication attendees. EMILY McKENNA

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Omaha parishes work together to bring hope and homes to those in need

Since 1994, six Catholic churches in Omaha have helped make the dream of homeownership a reality for families in need.

Karina Castaneda-Favila is one such homeowner. Tired of living in an apartment where her car had been vandalized made Castaneda-Favila long for something better.

“Neighbor kids would do things to your vehicle,” Castaneda-Favila said. “I didn’t like being there.”

Her longing led to a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home in northeast Omaha built by Habitat for Humanity of Omaha’s Faithful Builders Coalition last month.

The coalition consists of 12 churches in the Omaha area, including six Catholic parishes – St. John Vianney, St. Wenceslaus, St. Leo, Sacred Heart, St. James and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The coalition was formed in 1994 when Habitat for Humanity recruited churches to be part of their work.

The Faith Builders Coalition commits to building one Habitat for Humanity home each year in Omaha. Danna Plummer of St. Elizabeth Ann has chaired the coalition since its inception.

The Faithful Builders Coalition poses for a group photo with homeowner Karina Castaneda-Favila. EMILY McKENNA

Plummer previously volunteered with Habitat for Humanity’s selection committee, visiting the residences of families who applied for a Habitat home. This work allowed her to witness the horrible conditions many families live in.

“We used to go and do home visits, and you realize how badly these families need a home,” she said. “There was one where I knelt down on the floor, and there was water underneath the carpet. There were some where the bugs were so bad, or the plumbing was terrible. You see that situation, and you know we need to work together to help.”

Each church raises money that goes toward materials to build the house, but there is no set amount they are asked to raise, according to Tracie McPherson, advocacy and public affairs director for Habitat of Humanity of Omaha.

Plummer said St. James and St. Elizabeth Ann have a combined fundraising goal each year of $10,000. She said she never worries if they will reach that goal – and every year they have. Each week, Plummer places a blurb in the parish bulletins to inform people of their fundraising progress and leaves it at that.

“You know, it is God’s project,” she said. “And sometimes God doesn’t move quite as fast as I would like, but God always comes through and exceeds that goal. And it’s just a lot of good-hearted, generous people.”

Castaneda-Favila, who has one young son, completed financial counseling to qualify for a mortgage for her new home. She also was required to put in “sweat equity” hours at home-building sites. Those sweat equity hours helped her understand what the home-building process entails.

“Seeing how hard they were all working really makes you appreciate it,” Castaneda-Favila said.

It takes about 20 to 25 volunteers 12 days to construct one home. Plummer said people come to volunteer for one or two days. There also are “regulars” who come every day.

Volunteers work beside the homeowner. Helping someone in need is particularly satisfying when you work alongside that person.

“You get to know them, and they get to know you,” Plummer said.

She said nothing is better than seeing homeowners get handed the keys to their finished house.

“It’s indescribable,” Plummer said. “Seeing the look on the faces of the families at the dedication and the tears of joy. They are so grateful to be moving into their own home.”

As they do after every build, the Faithful Builders Coalition said a blessing for Castaneda-Favila’s new home and presented her with quilts and a bible.

Plummer plans to continue building homes for Habitat for Humanity for as long as possible. She urges others to consider doing the same.

“Volunteer to work one day, and I think your life will be changed,” she said. “You will feel like you’ve accomplished something. And if you’re working side by side with that future homeowner, you will be hooked.”