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Columns

January 13, 2014

Otsego Habitat for Humanity got start 25 years ago

Here’s proof that good things can happen on any Friday the 13th. A potluck supper was held on Friday, Jan. 13, 1989 at the First United Methodist Church at 66 Chestnut St. in Oneonta, and over some good, shared food came the start of a positive mission in Otsego County.

“More than 60 area residents turned up at an Oneonta church Friday night to find out how to start a local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, an international group dedicated to providing decent housing for the working poor,” it was reported the next day in The Daily Star.

“I think it’s an excellent turnout. We’re on our way,” said Reese Griffin of Laurens. The proposed chapter already had $2,000 in pledged funds, two thirds of the sum necessary for affiliation. Two national Habitat for Humanity representatives told the group about the organization and how to become an affiliate.

Only a few weeks later, on Jan. 26, a steering committee was formed to work on applying for affiliation and to select a site and family for a first home building or restoration project.

Habitat for Humanity, also known simply as Habitat, began in 1975. While many believe it was founded by former president Jimmy Carter, it was actually the idea of Millard and Linda Fuller, in a rural county in the state of Georgia, not far from Carter’s hometown of Plains. Carter has probably been the most visible volunteer with Habitat after leaving the presidency in 1980.

For Otsego County, it was Reese and Ella Griffin of Laurens who proposed the idea of getting the local chapter underway, with a little persuasion. The couple first became interested in Habitat in 1978 during a volunteer stint at Koinonia, a Christian community near Americus, Ga. The Griffins had met the Rev. Bill Bouton in 1988 at a Hartwick College seminar. Bouton was then pastor at Oneonta’s First United Methodist Church, and discussed with them the need for a Habitat affiliate in this area, where the Griffins would soon be living.

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