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Habitat for Humanity recipient Titeana McNeil, 11, plays with a caulk gun while Habitat volunteers Ted Paquette and Manny Cunard, site supervisor and director of Auxiliary Operations and Campus Services work on the family's new kitchen. Below, mother Jennifer McNeil and her children, Jamarea, 3; Tyquan, 14; Titeana, 11; and Taquana, 15 stop by their future home to check the progress on Oct. 13. (Photos by Olivia Bartlett)
Posted 10.18.05

Building Houses and Dreams: Wesleyan Participates in Habitat for Humanity

Jennifer McNeil had no idea that watching television would one day help her own a home. But, thanks to that and a partnership between Wesleyan University and Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity, Inc. (NMHFH) – a local affiliate for Habitat for Humanity International – McNeil, a single mother of five, is a first time homeowner.

In McNeil’s mind, home ownership had always seemed like a dream. But then, one night last summer, she was watching TV when she saw a commercial for Habitat for Humanity. It got McNeil thinking, and soon after she contacted the local Habitat office. She learned how she could apply to become a homeowner. She filled out an application and in October was notified she and her family homeowners of a home on 34 Fairfield Avenue  – a home that had been donated by Wesleyan to Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity.

“I read the first sentence of the letter and started jumping up and down and running around with my kids!” shouts McNeil.

The four bedroom, light grey colonial, located along the edge of Wesleyan’s campus had been refurbished by Habit for Humanity volunteers.

McNeil admits she is pleased that their new home is near Wesleyan.

“There is always something going on," she says. “After school programs, events, and there are very friendly people here.”

It turns out many of them are pretty good with construction tools, too.

Many of the volunteers who worked on the house were Wesleyan faculty, staff and student volunteers from Wesleyan’s Habitat for Humanity student chapter, WesShelter.

“During the past year, over 250 students, faculty and staff have given of their time and energy along with a countless number of community volunteers,” says Manny Cunard, director of auxiliary operations and campus services and site supervisor for the Wesleyan-Habitat for Humanity partnership “We have created connections with the Middletown community that will serve to enhance the important relationship between Middletown and Wesleyan."

McNeil and her children also helped work on their house-to-be every Saturday morning. Currently, the house is receiving its finishing touches and the family is set to move in before Thanksgiving.

“I’m having a lot of my family here for Thanksgiving,” says McNeil. “I want to cook five turkeys in my new kitchen! I never thought anything like this could happen to me in a million years.”

McNeil, a department manager at Wal-Mart in Wallingford who grew up in the Long River Village Projects in Middletown, is looking forward to improving her family life by owning her own home. She and her children, ages 18, 15, 14, 11 and 3 have been living at her sister’s Middletown home for the past two years.

“This is definitely going to bring my kids and I closer, just knowing that we now own a home.

On Sunday, Nov. 13 Wesleyan University and NMHFH will host a welcoming and celebratory event for the McNeil family at 34 Fairview Avenue in Middletown.

Recently, Wesleyan donated a second house at 15 Hubert Street to Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity. A groundbreaking is set for Hubert Street later this fall and applications to select a family are currently under review.

In June, 2006, Wesleyan expects to participate in a national Habitat “blitz-build,” in which an entire house is erected and made livable in seven days. This house will be one of 1,000 built simultaneously around the country.

By Laura Perillo, associate director of Media Relations