235 PLU students help build house

Recent graduate will move in to Habitat project next week with her husband and children

larry.larue@thenewstribune.comJanuary 11, 2014 

The new house that Dianna Sullivan and her family will move into next week was built thanks to thousands of dollars and hundreds of hands.

A Habitat for Humanity project, it was funded in part by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Pacific Lutheran University, where Sullivan was a student until completing her master’s degree in marriage and family counseling last month.

PLU students and faculty did more than raise money. Since August, 235 volunteers from the school have put in more than 1,410 hours.

“It started as a dirt lot, and we took the kids out to see each step in the process,” Sullivan said. “A group of PLU colleagues went with us for a wall-raising ceremony, and the next week we nailed on the sheeting and it started looking like a home.

“We had the kids write their names on their rooms before the sheetrock went up — and my husband wrote, ‘The Sullivans are here!’ behind the stairwell.”

The partnership between Habitat for Humanity and PLU was a first and began when two friends met for coffee in 2012. Had they not sat down together, the Sullivans would likely remain in their cramped two-bedroom Lakewood apartment for the foreseeable future.

Habitat director of family services Elliot Stockstad and PLU coordinator of community engagement Joel Zylstra kicked around ways to involve the university, but it wasn’t until months later that a chance arose.

“They only had opportunities in Tillicum and Tacoma when we first talked,” Zylstra said. “When they came up with a community plan for 30 homes in Midland, we wanted to be part of it.”

That community — The Woods at Golden Given — was walking distance from campus.

Stockstad, meanwhile, had begun searching for candidates to move into the unbuilt homes, contacting schools, businesses and churches in Pierce County. One of the churches was Lakewood’s Little Church on the Prairie.

An associate pastor there nominated the Sullivans, but they failed to qualify because they had medical bills in collection.

“Until Jan. 1, we’d never had insurance; we couldn’t afford it,” said Sullivan, who moved from Maine five years ago. “We had bills over the years we simply couldn’t pay and were way behind on.”

Something extraordinary followed.

“Anonymous donors in the church paid those bills,” Sullivan said. “We applied for the next available house in the project and qualified.”

It turned out to be the house PLU was helping build.

A three-bedroom, two-bath in a planned community of 30 Habitat homes, the house cost $100,000. Thrivent Financial contributed $55,000, Habitat gave another $35,000 and PLU raised $10,000.

Though the Sullivans move in next week, there will be a public dedication of the home Jan. 25. The Woods at Golden Given is in its early stages — the Sullivans will be the fourth family to move in, with 26 more homes on tap.

Though Zylstra said there’s no plan to fundraise for another house, PLU will be active in contributing hands-on volunteer work.

“I don’t think we feel a sense of completion; it’s more the end of the beginning,” Zylstra said. “We’re not going away; we don’t want this community to go away. We want to have after-school programs in the community center planned there, offer resources to residents.”

As many as 200 of those residents, the Sullivans were told, will likely be children.

“I know one of our neighbors, because she’s worked on our house and we’ve worked on hers,” Sullivan said. “It builds a sense of community, helping each other. She’s got 12 kids!”

Husband David Sullivan is a cook at Red Lobster. His wife wants to begin using her new degree as soon as the family is in and settled.

“We came here from Maine after my father died,” she said. “My sister was an Army wife, and they were stationed at Fort Lewis. My sister said, ‘Why not follow me to Washington?’”

Today, her sister and her Army husband are in the Midwest, facing a transfer to Georgia. Sullivan has a new degree, a new home and, soon, a new job.

“I want to work with families,” she said. “I’m going to look into private practice, but I’m wide open to working in the field.”

As with all Habitat homes, the mortgage and its monthly payment schedule are based on family income, locked in at the time the family is accepted. The Sullivans will pay about $750 a month for their home, with the length of the mortgage pending.

Stockstad said 18 families have been selected thus far for the 30 homes and that Habitat for Humanity is looking for a dozen more. To apply, call Stockstad at 253-627-5626, ext. 114.

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

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