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The house that hope built

By , - Last modified: February 14, 2011 at 4:15 PM

United Way project

Charter Homes Group, a homebuilder based in East Hempfield Township, has built charity homes for the United Way since 1996. It asks for donations of labor and materials from its vendors and subcontractors and contributes the proceeds from the sales of the homes to the United Way of Lancaster County. The company builds one home each year for the program.

The United Way chapter contacted Charter Homes after another local builder put a new roof on the United Way building during the charity's annual "Day of Caring" volunteer event. The success of the project led coordinators to dream of larger projects.

Charter Homes agreed to coordinate the program, which it calls "The House that Baxter Built." Rob Bowman, 41, the company's president, said the title was chosen to emphasize that no one company deserves all the credit for the annual project. Baxter Bear, the program's fictitious mascot, was the inspiration for the name.

So far, the program has raised nearly $700,0

Jeff Rutt became involved in charitable efforts overseas when his church started sponsoring donations to its sister church in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. Each year, the humanitarian-aid program at Calvary Monument Bible Church filled a container the size of a tractor-trailer with donations of food and medical supplies for needy Ukrainians. Calvary is in Sadsbury Township, Lancaster County.

Rutt, 46, is president of Keystone Custom Homes Inc., a homebuilder based in West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County. He traveled to Ukraine several times in the mid-1990s with two other church members on fact-finding missions for the group. The church group was concerned that the yearly donations might not be the best way to help out in the poverty-stricken former Soviet republic. They also were afraid that the people receiving the donations might become dependent on them.

The Ukrainian citizens he met shared the same concerns, Rutt said. They told him they wanted to become more self-sufficient.

In 1997, Rutt founded Hope International Inc., a faith-based nonprofit organization, to address some of the needs he saw on his visits to Ukraine. He had researched the idea of micro-finance loaning small sums of money to poor but enterprising individuals who would invest in startup businesses. He was convinced that a micro-loan program could make a difference in Ukraine, where few other resources were available for small businesses.

The organization, based in West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County, originally had two purposes: to set up a micro-loan program in Zaporozhye and to promote the Christian religion among Ukrainian youth. Its name stands for "Helping Other People Eternally."

Hope International's overseas efforts have widened significantly over the years. The organization now has several loan offices in Ukraine and also operates loan programs in China, Afghanistan, Moldova and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The program's loans average about $300, and some loans are as small as $25.

In Ukraine, the dollar is worth roughly 5.3 times the country's currency, the hryvnia.

Hope International charges a fee for each loan rather than interest, and usually the loans are paid back over three to four months. The income from the fees covers the expenses of the program's operations, and the remaining funds are loaned out again.

To date, the program has made more than 15,000 loans worldwide, Rutt said.

Much of the organization's funding comes from "Houses for Hope," an idea that occurred to Rutt when he attended a seminar on building charity homes at a meeting of the National Association of Home Builders.

"The leader said, 'Do you know of any nonprofits you'd like to support?' And I said to myself, 'Do I ever!'" Rutt said.

His company, Keystone Custom Homes, built the first House for Hope in 1998.

The homebuilder encouraged the vendors and subcontractors to donate goods and services for the project, and the profits from the sale of the house were donated to Hope International.

Since then, other builders have become involved, including Lancaster County companies Elam G. Stoltzfus Jr. Inc., based in East Lampeter Township, and Hess Home Builders, based in East Hempfield Township. Hanover-based L.L. Lawrence Builders in York County also has contributed to the program.

Over the last five years, 40 homes have been built to benefit Hope International, said Joel Anderson, 41, the organization's director of development. Most of them were built in Pennsylvania, but others were built in Maryland, Florida, Oklahoma, Illinois and Minnesota.

The group expects 15 more houses to be completed by the end of its current fiscal year. Each of those houses could bring in between $100,000 and $120,000 for the charity, Anderson said.

Hope International has expanded its Christian youth programs, as well. The organization sponsors 220 "Tomorrow Clubs" across Ukraine, Anderson said. The clubs, usually composed of about 25 to 30 children, meet weekly.

The children learn Bible verses, get English lessons and play games.

"The whole idea is to build that foundation of biblical truths," Rutt said. "In case the doors to faith close in Ukraine sometime soon, they'll still have that in their hearts."

Rutt said bringing the Christian faith to Ukrainian children was an important part of the organization's mission to aid the country's people because that would give them long-term help in the spiritual sense.

Despite its strong evangelical orientation, Hope International imposes no religious requirements for obtaining a loan, Rutt said. Applicants are judged purely on their creditworthiness, their ability to pay back the loan and their knowledge of the industry they are entering.

Loan officers rely on weekly contacts with beneficiaries for opportunities to share their beliefs, he said.

Most beneficiaries make weekly payments, and on those occasions, the loan officers can invite them to a Bible study or to worship at local churches.

"They consider themselves to be missionaries disguised as loan officers," he said.

The program's growth has had its costs. The president of Hope International, Paul Marty, works from an office in Ukraine. The organization's expansion into other countries made it increasingly difficult for him to coordinate all of its operations.

In July, Hope International created the position of executive director.

The new executive director, Peter Greer, works from the organization's Lancaster County headquarters.

The expansion of the loan program and the Tomorrow Clubs is also putting more pressure on the organization's budget. Rutt said he would like to get more builders involved in funding the organization.

"Our main focus is the field," he said. "As our front line grows, we are really in need of more Houses for Hope."

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