Mr. Owosso provides path to independence

A handicap ramp was recently installed on Saginaw Street in Owosso by Saginaw-Shiawassee Habitat For Humanity employees and volunteers with funds received from Mr. Owosso, aka Justin Horvath. Volunteers Keith Clarke and Carl Smith are shown building the ramp.

SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — For anyone who needs a handicap ramp or critical home repairs, the time to apply with Habitat For Humanity is now.

Last year’s Mr. Owosso winner, Justin Horvath, raised $12,000 for Saginaw-Shiawassee Habitat For Humanity, and now those funds are being put to use, with two ramps already installed and a third one planned for next week.

“We’re incredibly grateful this money is available. It makes all the difference: We can go ahead with a project without putting a financial strain on customers, who don’t have a lot of money,” said Karl Fechner, who works in the Shiawassee home repairs and deconstruction/construction department for Habitat For Humanity, and co-manager of the Habitat For Humanity Restore in Owosso Township.

Typically, a customer will pay a portion of the project cost, but as long as the Mr. Owosso money holds out — there was about $10,000 left as of Thursday — the work will be done for free. To apply, visit the Restore, 1494 N. M-52.

“We’re trying to line up more jobs while the money lasts,” Fechner said.

On Jan. 6, Fechner and Habitat volunteers put in a handicap ramp at a house on Saginaw Street in Owosso. The homeowner is a woman whose mother is living with her and receiving hospice care. The ramp will be taken down when it is no longer needed, Fechner said, and the wood reused.

In December, a ramp and wall-affixed “grab bars” were installed at a home in the Laingsburg area for a woman whose mother was in a physical rehabilitation center and couldn’t be released until she had a safe home to return to.

Both ramps are temporary, cost about $500 each and took about a day to build.

A third ramp project is planned for a house in Owosso Township owned by a man who has muscular dystrophy. The job will require 31 feet of ramp, take about two days to build, be a more permanent structure and cost about $1,000.

Critical home repairs include windows, doors, roofs and plumbing repairs. For these jobs, Habitat hires a contractor, Fechner said.

The handicap ramps are built by Fechner and volunteers. Anyone with construction experience who would like to join the ramp building crew can call (989) 720-1494.

Recipients of ramps and other home projects invariably express gratitude, sometimes tearfully. Habitat received a thank-you note from the homeowner in Laingsburg that said: “Thank you so much for the ramp and the grab bars. It will help get Mom back in her house.”

Fechner said the projects are satisfying because people are helped by them so much.

“First of all, they’re safe,” he said. “They’re not falling. And they’re so grateful, not just for the ramp but because someone has come out to see them. The ramps give them back their mobility.”

Fechner, a former contractor and educator, worked in the construction department at Habitat For Humanity in Wisconsin for a few years before he and his wife recently moved to Owosso in order to be close to family members.

He was hired by the Saginaw-Shiawassee Habitat a few months ago.

“I tell you what, this is the most rewarding job I’ve every had,” Fechner said. “You see the direct effect of your work. It makes everything else superficial.”

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