FREEPORT – With volunteers and contractors, work begins on Habitat for Humanity’s Hummingbird Lane project in Freeport, the largest ever for the Greater Portland chapter.

FREEPORT – Of all the people the Greater Portland Habitat for Humanity could have chosen for one of its new homes on Hummingbird Lane in Freeport, Nyapeni Doulthan feels she was the unlikeliest.

“I couldn’t stop crying when I heard the news,” said Doulthan, 45, a single mother of two from Portland. “It was unbelievable. I never dreamed of this when I arrived in America in 1990. ”

The 45-year-old Sudanese native will be moving into her new home this fall after being chosen by Habitat to receive a no-interest loan to purchase a two-bedroom home the organization is building. Doulthan, who works as a translator and language specialist for the Portland school district, is the latest recipient of the Greater Portland Habitat for Humanity and the third chosen in Freeport.

The Hummingbird Lane location will eventually include two triplexes and a duplex, making it the largest construction project the Greater Portland Habitat for Humanity chapter has undertaken in its 30-year history.

Five years ago, the Portland Habitat chapter partnered with the town of Freeport to purchase the land and received a Community Development Block Grant to help with the infrastructure. According to Amy Dowler, interim executive director for the Greater Portland Habitat for Humanity, the roughly 2-acre Hummingbird Lane project, located off West Street a half mile from Freeport’s Town Office, will essentially create a new neighborhood.

“In a way we’re building communities, so the overall amount of people will be greater than just the people physically living in the homes,” said Dowler. “This is a large-scale undertaking.”

“We’re not just building homes,” Dowler said, “but building community members who pay it forward. Home ownership provides a sense of place and stability. They finally feel like they belong.”

The application process is rigorous and mirrors the thorough vetting steps of a traditional lender, like a bank, said Mark Primeau, development associate for the Greater Portland Habitat for Humanity. The applicant must not be eligible for a traditional mortgage, but be able to pay back the 30-year loan.

“It has to be their only option,” said Dowler. “They have to earn 35 to 65 percent of the area’s mean income. We determine the final term based on their financial situation. The affordable payment gives them the opportunity to save for education and for the future. The second and third jobs may not be necessary.”

Defaulting on the loan is not really an option, as Habitat is in the business of putting people in homes, not throwing them out, said Primeau. For each home Habitat builds, it receives on average 25 to 30 applicants.

“We have a range of options if the person does fall into financial difficulty. We try to choose wisely,” he said. “But we will exhaust every effort possible. We’ve never run into that problem. It’s a partnership even after the house is built.”

The primary labor is done through volunteers and local contractors, who donate their time when available. The project is overseen by Chad Mullin, the construction manager for the Portland group. Mullin said organizing the sometimes unskilled labor can be difficult and the local contractors can only provide so much of their time. Thus, the building process can be slow and a contrast to the perception that Habitat homes are overnight creations done by an army of volunteers hoisting frames in the dead of night while the concrete in the basement is still wet.

“It can be a combination of coaching and giving repetitive tasks,” said Mullin. “So the oversight is a lot but the determination of our volunteers is incredible.”

Dowler said the Freeport business community has been enthusiastic and instrumental in the volunteer efforts. The Hummingbird Lane project joins an existing three-home Habitat location on South Street. In 2010, the town offered these lots to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland in return for back taxes owed on the property. The completion of these three houses will double the number of Habitat built homes in Freeport from three to six. Previous projects include two homes on Grant Road completed in 2003 and 2004 and the relocation and subsequent rehabilitation of a home on West Street in 2010.

The building materials are bought through a combination of grants, donations, and sponsorship through Lowe’s. Mullin said the lumber is purchased from Maine-based Hancock Lumber, which provides a generous discount. The stagnant economy has hurt Habitat, so fundraising efforts have been a challenge in recent years. Each home is built to the Energy Star home building code, which ensures a dwelling meets a high level of energy efficiency and a certain green standard.

“In layman’s terms, the Energy Star certification means the house is warm and keeps the utilities down,” said Mullin.

For Doulthan, the home offers security and the chance to raise her two children in safety. After living in various low-income neighborhoods in Portland, she has seen her share of violence and the effect it had on her two older children, who are now out of high school and successful, she said.

“It was really difficult to raise four children, work full time and make sure your kids are not associating with bad people that are in a neighborhood. It was a struggle. Thankfully, I was able to manage that,” she said.

Doulthan heard about the Habitat program through a co-worker and applied last year, with little expectation of being chosen. After meeting initial requirements mandated by the application process, she worked closely with Dowler for eight months, hoping, but not convinced, that she would be chosen.

On the night before Thanksgiving last year, she received a phone call from Dowler asking her to come to the Habitat office on Bell Street in Portland to fill out more paperwork.

“When I walked into the office everyone was standing up. I thought something was wrong,” she said. “They told me I was accepted. It was unbelievable.”

Doulthan is due to move in this fall with her two youngest children. She said living in a safe neighborhood and being part of the active Freeport community is a dream come true and one she never thought possible when she fled the war-torn Sudan in 1998 and relocated to Portland. Per the spirit and rules of Habitat, Doulthan will be an active volunteer for the project and the organization, a role she relishes.

“They have been so giving that I want to give back,” she said.

She speaks Arabic and her native dialect Nuer, the official language of Sudan, and provides translation services for the growing Sudanese population in the greater Portland area. She hopes her journey will inspire others like her who want a piece of the American Dream but feel the odds are stacked against them.

“The Habitat program is about hope and opportunity,” she said.

Nyapeni Doulthan and Chad Mullin, construction manager for the Greater Portland Habitat for Humanity, pause at the construction site on Hummingbird Lane in Freeport, where Doulthan’s new home is going up. Mullin oversees the construction of the home and instructs a small army of volunteers, including Doulthan, who donate their labor to the project. The home is expected to be done this fall. Staff photos Matthew Stilphen


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