This new house

The Doner family just moved into a new Habitat for Humanity-built home on Milton’s Railroad Street. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

The sound of hammers, power saws and drills has floated through the windows of 112 Railroad St. for months as a team assembled a brand new ranch-style home from the ground up.

But on Sunday, the sounds had changed.

“Let there be peace on earth,” a crowd sang. “And let it begin with me.”

It was a special day for Elise and Dwayne Doner as Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity handed over the keys for their newly finished home at a dedication ceremony, attended by dozens of well-wishers.

People packed into the living room of the 1,200 square foot ranch, poking their heads into three freshly painted bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms, admiring sparkling wood floors and counter tops.

The Doners learned they were the selected recipients of the new home early this year. Elise is a Head Start teacher at Cambridge Elementary. Dwayne works in food production at “It’s Arthur’s Fault,” a sauce and marinade company in Jericho.

Their youngest son, Rubin, started fourth grade at Milton Elementary this fall. Finn, the oldest, is a junior at Mount Mansfield Union and will finish his high school career there, Elise said.

The family’s former abode was a basement apartment in Jericho, constantly flooding and covered in mold, Elise said. They always kept a dehumidifier running, prompting sky-high electric bills.

That won’t be a problem in the new house, construction chairman Dick Shasteen said. The home is highly energy efficient and includes a heat recovery system to make sure nothing is wasted and bills stay affordable.

Families selected for Habitat homes must make less than 60 percent of the median household income and will pay back the mortgage at 0 percent interest with no money down. Those funds will go toward other Habitat projects in the area.

The family also contributed to the project with several “sweat equity” hours, helping with the construction or working shifts at Habitat’s ReStore.

Those volunteer hours were often enjoyable, Dwayne said, especially working with such an enthusiastic team.

“I’ve never seen people that enjoy what they’re doing so much,” he said. “It was fascinating to see people work that hard, for no money, and enjoy it.”

Finn helped build the house’s frame with his dad on the first day of construction and was surprised at what he was allowed to do.

Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity handed over the keys to 112 Railroad St. last weekend to the Doner family. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

“This is really a monument to cooperation,” Finn said. “Having a community of people providing affordable housing for us.”

Several Habitat traditions were performed through the afternoon, including a reading from a fellow parishioner and presenting a Bible and embroidered sampler. The Doners were also given small bags of salt and sugar, plus an egg for their table – a symbolic Jewish housewarming gift. 

Volunteers shared memorable anecdotes from the build, especially laughing at the memory of Elise heading to her hairdresser covered in sheetrock dust.

They also recalled Women Build Week, a national initiative that brought a team of all-female volunteers to the Doner home for several days. That caught the eye of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who sent a letter to the Doner family earlier this week.

“Your efforts have helped break down economic and social barriers and have supported gender equality and energy efficiency,” Sanders wrote. “Greater Milton coming together truly embodies the Vermont spirit. With pride, I remind you that today gets us a little closer to the day when all Vermonters have safe, decent and affordable housing.”

Receiving the letter was a thrill, said Elise, a big Sanders fan. She plans to frame and display the letter prominently in her new home.

Another special keepsake came from the Essex-based Champlain Valley Quilt Guild, who gave the Doners three intricate bedspreads. Rubin thanked all the volunteers with his quilt wrapped firmly around his shoulders.

“It’s great that all these volunteers decided to work on our house,” he said.

This is the third house GMHH has built in Milton, the second on Railroad Street. The keys for that house were presented to Betty Button almost exactly a year ago.

Looking around at the faces of volunteers, some familiar and some not, Elise was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“We’re so humbled by the fact that people we’ve never met before in our lives dedicated their time and talents to the building of our home,” Elise said. “It’s not something that I can just say ‘thank you,’ because it’s not enough.”

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