In August of 2010, veteran Ron Borngesser began a long road toward securing a Habitat for Humanity home for a disabled veteran and his family.
At last week's Austintown Township trustees meeting, the announcement was officially made that the family of disabled Marine veteran Sgt. Jeff Skok will be the proud owners of a new home this summer.
"I have been banging on doors for several years to make this happen," Borngesser said.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Monica Cravens, left, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Mahoning County, welcomes retired Marine Sgt. Jeff Skok, right, and his wife Laury during the Austintown Township trustees meeting last week. The Skok family is the recipient of a new home to be built at 3889 New Road in Austintown.
Last year things started falling into place and Borngesser began taking applications for a new home. He had more than 200 applications from veterans that were narrowed down to three. In December the decision was made to award the new home to the Skok family. They were chosen out of a pool of Veteran applicants because they met Habitat's requirements for income, credit and willingness to partner. They also qualified because SSgt. James Skok, one of the family members, is an honorably discharged Veteran.
Skok served 18 years in the Marine Corps and was injured from a bomb blast. Borngesser said the new home will be built to accommodate his injury and any special needs.
"I thank God for getting me into this situation," Skok said. "I thank my wife for making me go down and sign up for this."
Skok has been an Austintown resident for many years. He is a member of Crossroads Church and has a history of giving back to the community. After the Sandy Hook shootings, Skok volunteered his time to stand watch in uniform at Watson Elementary School where his daughter was a student.
"I love to serve," he said. "I'll keep serving Austintown Township until the day I die."
Attending last week's meeting was Monica Cravens, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Mahoning County. According to Cravens, this home is the first that her organization is building in Austintown.
Also attending the meeting was Debra Flora, executive director of the Mahoning County Land Bank. The property at 3889 New Road was among properties declared a nuisance and the former structure torn down. The Land Bank acquired the property and made it an asset instead of a liability. Flora brought the clear title to the meeting and handed it to Borngesser.
"The fee for the cost of acquiring the property is done," she said. "When [our organization] acquired it, there was a fee, but [Mahoning County Commissioner] Dave Ditzler said send the bill to him."
Ditzler, who is a former Austintown trustee and who presently sits on the board of directors for the Mahoning County Land Bank, said he was glad to see the whole plan finally come together.
At the meeting, the Austintown Township trustees voted unanimously to wave any zoning fees for the construction of the new home.
The home will be a four-bedroom, two-bath ranch home with a 1-1/2 car garage. Ground will be broken in March with construction to begin when the weather breaks. For neighbor Carol Burich, having the Skok family as neighbors is a welcoming thought. Burich said in recent years the property had become an eyesore.
"The old house that existed there was gross," she said. "I was always calling the township about high grass."
Construction is expected to start in April and the project should be completed by the end of July. Borngesser said First Energy has stepped up to sponsor the home, which will be all-electric. He also said he has received donations for a roof, lighting and promise of material and labor from Home Depot. The Whirlpool Company contacted Borngesser and will donate a new refrigerator and stove.
"It's all coming together," Borngesser said. "It's going to happen."
The project is a partnership between Austintown Township, American Legion Post 301, the VFW and other area Veteran's Organizations.
The Skok family has already begun the required 400 hours of sweat equity and can't wait for construction to begin so they can come out and swing a hammer. The family will also complete 23 classes and save for a down payment as part of the HFHMC program.
Interested volunteers or donors are invited to attend a meeting at 5 p.m. Monday at the Austintown Senior Center.
Habitat also will hold a Zumba-thon fundraiser as a part of this project. The event will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 15 at Austintown Elementary School. Registration is $15 in advance and forms can be found at www.HabitatMahoningCounty.org. Questions about the Zumba-thon can be emailed to HabitatZumba@gmail.com.
Austintown Trustee Jim Davis, who is also a board member for the Mahoning County Land Bank, said he is proud to have the first Habitat home for a veteran in the township.
"Every military man and woman that comes home after serving should get a home," he said. "These are the real heroes."