This article originally appeared June 20, 2019 on Jersey Shore Online.
MANAHAWKIN – To 10-year old RJ and 5-year old Raymond, the most important decision was who got the green room and who got the blue room. Their mother, Shaunna Smith, just smiled as they darted around their brand new house, claiming their territory.
Smith and her two young sons are the proud owners of a brand new home located at 219 Float Avenue in the Ocean Acres section of Stafford Township. The house was provided through a partnership by Habitat for Humanity of Southern Ocean County (HFHSOC), built by the hardworking hands of Ocean County Vocational Technical School (OCVTS) New Home Construction students.
Members from HFHSOC and OCVTS joined the Smith family on June 13 for a house dedication ceremony to recognize the efforts of the students who created the home, and honor the family that now gets to live in it.
“This is our fourth house for the Vo Tech School [OCVTS], they do a phenomenal job,” said Greg Muszynski, Executive Director of HFHSOC. “This is a really fun program for us; it’s really great work for them.”
The gray-colored house sits on the corner of Float and Steamer Avenues in Ocean Acres. It’s a three-bedroom, one-bathroom with an open living room and kitchen and a covered front porch.
“The hardest part of building a home is dealing with the township, permitting,” Chris Sullivan, instructor with the OCVTS New Home Construction program, said. He joked that the actual building aspect is the easiest part for them, thanking Habitat for their partnership in the program.
Sullivan led the team of New Home Construction students in the various stages of construction. Smith and her sons were also involved in the year-long process, putting in their “sweat equity” as HFHSOC calls it. They helped move construction along in small ways, like cleaning, while developing relationships with the OCVTS members on board.
Sullivan even helped Smith’s oldest son RJ build his race car for the Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby. He came in first.
“I always tell everybody, we don’t build houses, we build homes,” Sullivan added.
Sullivan and the OCVTS team were rewarded for their efforts with thanks in the form of a framed collage from the Smith family, comprised of photos taken throughout the construction process.
“It’s so cool and overwhelming, but exciting all at the same time,” Smith said.
Up until now, Smith and her sons have been staying in transitional housing and at her mother’s house in Beachwood. She works for the Toms River Regional School District as a bus driver. RJ and Raymond will both be registered on time to join the Stafford Township School District by the fall.
According to Muszynski, the process of choosing who gets a Habitat home is quite long. When asked, he responded: “How much time do you have?”
In a nutshell, the process begins by getting those in need to attend meetings put on by HFHSOC. There, these individuals can grab an application to fill out in order to be considered. Muszynski estimates that there are about 40 people who come out to the meetings, about half take an application, and about half of that number fills them out and returns them.
“By the time we actually get through the first round of analysis…were generally down to a handful of applicants,” he explained.
This was Smith’s second time submitting an application and she passed each round of analysis successfully, Muszynski added.
She was chosen for the build project in January of 2018. Between that time and early spring, Habitat works on submitting permits and plans. Work on construction begins around late August, typically, but this particular home was started in mid-September.
“We’re essentially done the construction but there’s a little bit of outside work, grading, landscaping,” to be done along with final inspections, Muszynski said.
But for now the house is ready to move in.
Not only does the HFHSOC and OCVTS partnership provide Ocean County residents in need with shelter, but it also ensures that students will get hands-on skill and a rewarding experience. “With this partnership, students with limited carpentry skills are provided an accelerated training program in construction…Chris [Sullivan] has worked as a union carpenter and respects and understands the need for skilled trades people,” said Karen Homiek, Acting Superintendent of OCVTS, calling it a win-win for both students and family.