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Jen Ellanson, community engagement manager of Habitat for Humanity in South Central Minnesota, served as guest speaker at the Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce’s most recent Lunch and Learn at the American Legion. (Misty Schwab/Lonsdale News Review)

The Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce hosts several networking events for employees of Chamber members throughout the year, giving local workers an opportunity to share lunch with one another and learn something new.

Many Lunch and Learn sessions take place at the Lonsdale Public Library, but the most recent event, held Thursday, took place at the Lonsdale American Legion.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanna Gutzke-Kupp invited Jan Ellanson, community engagement manager of South Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, to attend the Lunch and Learn as a guest speaker. During her talk, Ellanson explained who qualifies for Habitat for Humanity housing and how the community can support the cause.

According to Ellanson, Habitat for Humanity has built 147 houses in south central Minnesota, and the nonprofit always wants to find more open land. Locally, New Prague is one area where Habitat for Humanity would like to find more space to build. The organization also looks into foreclosed homes to flip.

One myth Ellanson likes to dispel about her work is that Habitat for Humanity gives away homes for free. She said the nonprofit serves individuals who earn 30 to 40% of the median income for the area where they live and have a low debt-to-income ratio.

Those who qualify for Habitat for Humanity housing must be able to afford their homes to avoid foreclosure, and help with the building project, but Habitat may assist families in some ways. For example, Ellanson said families receive homeowner education courses to help them know the ins and outs of owning a house.

If families outgrow their home, Habitat for Humanity has first rights to purchase the house back. However, it’s the organization’s incentive to make sure a family remains in their home as long as possible. Part of that reason, said Ellanson, is because studies show children who live in a stable, consistent home are more likely to excel in school.

Volunteers are always welcome to help build the homes as well, said Ellanson. Leaders at each building site help delegate tasks according to volunteers’ level of experience. At the end of the day, even if volunteers go home dirty and sweaty, Ellanson said they go home knowing they did something positive.

Many volunteers come from churches and other groups or clubs. Industrial arts students at St. Peter High School have the unique opportunity to work on a house on campus. After the house is complete, it is transported to its lot.

After a home is completed, Ellanson explained that members of the community are invited to an open house tour. Volunteers and family members say a few words and pray over the house, since Habitat for Humanity is a Christian-based nonprofit.

Ellanson concluded her talk by taking questions from guests. She described how the organization follows up with the families after they move into their houses and spoke about the huge impact of volunteers.

The Chamber of Commerce hosts its next networking event from noon to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Lonsdale Public Library.

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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