Refugee family celebrates new home
Three Wichita families, including two that emigrated from Africa, moved into new Habitat for Humanity homes they built with help from the city’s aviation industry.
“I’m excited, I’m happy, it’s just wow,” said Jerome Eckels Jr.
“It’s a dream come true,” added Tae Eckels.
The couple and their six children were given the keys to their new five-bedroom house Wednesday evening. The house near 11th and Estelle neighbors two others newly build by Habitat for Humanity in their Rock the Block neighborhood.
The houses are part of the Air Capital Build, an initiative among Habitat for Humanity, Spirit AeroSystems, Textron Aviation and various Wichita companies in the aerospace industry supply chain.
“Thank you for the 1,100 employees who came to this block, in the center of our community, to pound a nail, to lift a truss, to paint, to plant grass,” said Ann Fox, executive director of Wichita Habitat for Humanity. “Thank you for the thousands of dollars in gifts made of construction materials that made this possible.”
“The fruit of that labor and that wonderful community spirit are three beautiful homes that will house six adults and 16 children, providing safe, affordable housing for the future,” Fox said.
The Rock the Block area now includes 43 homes built in half of a square mile since 2014.
Brad White, of Textron, suggested the aviation community may collaborate to build more houses in the future.
“We are naming this the Air Capital Build,” White said. “Aerospace and aviation in this city go back almost 100 years now, and there’s a rich, rich history that the community gets to be a part of because of this industry. We hope that this event is the first annual and can be a recurring thing.”
“We are very, very proud to take what we call a house and today turn it into what we call a home,” White continued. “The memories that you as families will have in these buildings are what will make it special and defined it as the word ‘home.’”
The houses were finished about a month ahead of schedule. They come with a zero percent mortgage.
Shawn Campbell, of Spirit, said all 17,000 employees at the international company were able to see the progress of the homes.
“If you think about the industry we’re all in, in the Air Capital of the World, the ability to give back, we are all very grateful for the jobs we have, the opportunities we’ve had, and for the aviation community to be able to give back is an awesome thing.”
Dana Korkki, a member of the Habitat for Humanity construction staff, said the new homeowners are required to put in 400 hours of work, including helping build the new homes of their own family and other families. They also complete 40 hours of financial literacy and home maintenance classes.
“The Rock the Block neighborhood has the best neighborhood in Wichita, because all these families have helped each other to build these homes,” Fox said.
Wichita Councilman Brandon Johnson welcomed the new homeowners.
“I am excited, this is one of my favorite parts of my job, welcoming new homeowners to our district, this neighborhood,” he said. “... I am so proud to see so many homes being built.”
Korkki said the Jeanvier and Seline family have lived in Wichita for three years after fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He said they rented a small place with high utility bills, but wanted an affordable home of their own.
The Binda and Sikitu family, also from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are moving into another home.
Jerome Eckels said his family had been living in a cramped, three-bedroom home. Now, the five-bedroom home gives them more room for six children.
“They’re all over the place right now, they’re loving it,” he said. “They already claimed their rooms. ... It’s a comforting feeling (building a new home for the family). When you have kids, of course you tend to them and watch them grow up, but you always think about their future.”