Habitat makes dreams a reality for seventh time in Champaign

By Matt Spartz

Lara, the energetic six-year-old daughter of Waddah Sweid, began single-handedly digging the foundation of the Sweid’s future home with her miniature gold-spade shovel. Waddah helped his younger son, Farris, 2, lift soft dirt out of the growing hole while his mother and Waddah’s wife, Rim Hamwi, yelped in excitement. She ran over to her family, threw her arms around her husband’s neck and playfully kissed his cheek.

An empty grass lot at 925 N. Fourth St. proudly displays the bright orange, spray-paint outline of the future home that will fulfill the dreams of the Sweid family. One day the sprawling oak tree that shades the back lot between quaint ranch houses will hopefully cast a helpful shadow over a much anticipated fresh vegetable garden.

The family gathered with members of Habitat for Humanity near a small tent and podium Saturday to celebrate the groundbreaking of Champaign’s seventh Habitat home, which will be completed in April.

“It has been a dream of ours to own a home, but we could not afford to,” said Waddah Sweid, who is a Syrian native. “We were beginning to lose hope of ever owning our own home.”

Since moving to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia in 2000, Waddah has been working at a Wal-mart while his wife, Rim, has been taking classes at Parkland College. According to the Sweid’s biography on Habitat’s Web site, the family used to live in a one bedroom apartment with holes in the ceiling and were too ashamed to have guests over.

Home ownership was simply a dream, until the Sweids found out that Habitat for Humanity was building homes they could afford.

Eric Sheu, student chapter president of Habitat for Humanity and senior in Engineering, said it costs about $60,000 to build a house in Champaign. The student chapter is half way to raising their donations – $15,000 with another $15,000 to go. Champaign will match their funds by donating the last $30,000.

“They (the Sweids) are paying for the house,” said Eileen Gebbie, interim executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County. “The difference is they are buying the house at cost, not at market value, and the 20-year loan is interest free. So we’re not profiting, nor is anyone involved in the process.”

Because these projects are run by the University chapter and are not partnered with businesses and other organizations, they take longer to complete. The University chapter only builds every other year, using the time in between to raise money.

“Student builds take a little bit longer because we deal with the academic calender,” Gebbie said. “So (from the) application to signing the house can be up to two years. The Sweids, however, applied last year, and they will have their house in a year and a half.”

Everyone seems to know how much effort went into getting the Sweid family so close to home ownership. Family friend, Suzanne Cox, spoke at the groundbreaking on how happy she was in seeing her friends take this step.

“This day came about through much prayer,” said Cox. “They’ve truly shown that they can make their American dream come true through hard work.”

In Sheu’s address to the crowd over incessant crickets and morning traffic, he emphasized the goals of the University’s Habitat chapter.

“Our mission is to end sub-standard housing in partnership with the campus and community,” Sheu said.

Mayor Gerald Schweighart said the city of Champaign is more than willing to help Habitat with it’s goal. The city has many houses that are past the point of repair that they are looking to do something with, he said.

“We’ve been able to develop a lot of vacant lots, and the best way to use them is something like Habitat,” Schweighart said. “It’s been a win-win cooperation effort with the city.”

The Sweids are seeing firsthand the proceeds of that cooperation, and the gratitude was apparent in Waddah Sweid’s speech at the groundbreaking.

“I want to thank Habitat for Humanity for choosing us as a home recipient,” said Waddah Sweid. “We want to thank everyone who has given up their time and money to make our dreams come true. God bless you.”