After nearly three years of planning and working to become a national affiliate, Habitat for Humanity of Waldo County has its first partner family and a piece of land on which to construct their home.

The group expects to have final subdivision approval from the Belfast Planning Board Wednesday, July 14, and has scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for Friday, July 16, at 5:30 p.m. at the construction site. The site is located off the Oak Hill Road in Belfast, beginning at the intersection of the Kaler and City Point roads. Community members are invited to bring shovels and take part in the groundbreaking. Parking will be on Kaler Road.

The 3.8-acre site was donated to Habitat by the Unity Foundation. The parcel will not only provide the land for the first home, but pending a zoning change by the Belfast City Council, there is space for two additional homes in the future.

Larry Sterrs, CEO and chairman of the board for the Unity Foundation, said his group had owned the land since May 2003. The land was formerly owned by the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad. Sterrs said approximately eight months ago, Larry Jones of Belfast, a local Habitat board member, approached him about donation the land. He said the Foundation board was interested in donating the land under three conditions:

more than one Habitat home could be located on the site; one of the families would be from Unity or an abutting Waldo County town; and construction of the first home would begin before the end of the year and be completed by June 2011.

“We see this as an excellent use of the property. Habitat for Humanity has a national reputation and we think it is great that a group in Waldo County is doing this. It’s a perfect use,” said Sterrs.

Habitat for Humanity of Waldo County has received nearly $50,000 in donations from individuals and churches. It has also received or is due to receive grants, in addition to the land from the Unity Foundation, from the Maine Community Foundation, Bangor Savings Bank’s Community Matters More, United Midcoast Charities and the Greenough Fund.

Among the groups that have served as fundraising partners are the Belfast Lions Club, Chase’s Daily, the Waldo County YMCA, the Belfast Maskers, the Waldo County Realtors’ Association, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, First Congregational Church of Searsport, Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast, The First Church of Belfast and First Baptist Church of Belfast, which also provides office space.

Now that Habitat is planning to begin construction later this month, volunteers are being sought. Contractors only will work on the site on Mondays and Fridays, with every adult who has completed a safety course welcome to work on the construction on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information about volunteering time, materials or funds, call 388-2344 or e-mail: hfhwc@bluestreakme.com.

Habitat for Humanity of Waldo County is an all-volunteer organization with many busy individuals giving their time and energy because they believe in the goals of Habitat. Board Chair Randy Mailloux said, “We can always use more help and invite you to join us if you, too, are excited about the prospect of helping provide decent, safe and affordable housing to working families in our communities.”

Other members of the board of directors in addition to Jones and Mailloux are the Rev. Ken Parker, Barbara Klausmeyer, Ed Varney, John Arrison, Jack Brady, Al Putnam, Gail Smith, Andrea Walker, Su Wood and Leane Zainea.

For Christina Johannes of Swanville, being chosen as the partner family for the first home being built by Habitat for Humanity of Waldo County means giving her children a great gift. “Getting chosen by Habitat for Humanity gives me the chance to give my kids something I never had … a sense of security and stability. A forever home,” she said.

When Christina last counted, at age 16, she had moved 46 times. “We were never in one place for very long. Never really getting the chance to call a place home.”

The single mother says her family’s new home will be a place “where we can build memories as a family and call it our own. We don’t ever have to move again. No more looking in the paper with the fear and frustration of not being able to find a place.”

After being told that Habitat was looking for its first family, Christina said, she almost didn’t apply because, “I thought it was a dream, too big and too amazing. I didn’t think I could ever be chosen.” But after encouragement from several people, she did apply — on the last day.

“It’s such an awesome, amazing feeling being chosen. I not only see this as a chance to build a lifelong home for my kids, but also as an opportunity to, as Habitat says, accept a hand up and not a handout. I’m hoping to break the cycle and teach my kids they can dream, hope and achieve great things in life. This experience has helped me realize that I can.”

Christina’s children include Jasmine, 13, Emily, 10, and Cody, 8. Jasmine is excited about the opportunity to plant flowers around their home and never having to worry again that she will have to give up the family’s pets in order to find a rental. Cody, who is autistic, finds the whole thing a little confusing but he is excited that he will be able to paint his room “surfer wave blue.”

It’s Emily who is all smiles. The first time she talked to Randy Mailloux, chairman of Habitat for Humanity of Waldo County, she asked him what color the room she will share with her sister will be painted. She was thrilled to learn that she and her sister will get to pick the color. And when she asked if she would be allowed to hang up posters, she couldn’t believe that it will be her home and she can do anything her mother says is OK.

Christina, who has worked at Liberty Graphics as a printer for years, said when members of the Habitat board showed up at her rental home one night around 8 p.m., she thought they were doing a surprise home visit. She and the children said it was, “crazy but cool” when they were told they had been selected as the first partner family.

During the first week after they were selected, the family had already completed its 50 hours of volunteer time. They are looking forward to working on the construction of their own home and then staying involved. “I’m very excited to work with the Habitat board. It will be so awesome to help someone else,” said Christina.

Meantime, Christina and her children sing the praises of Sharon and Ted Menard, who are providing the family support and are always available to answer questions. And Christina can’t wait for construction to begin on their three-bedroom, one-story home. “Finally, my kids and I can be happy to go home,” she concluded.