By Susan Olp Billings Gazette, Mont.
Before long, a house will take shape at 1716 Lone Pine Drive in the Josephine Crossing subdivision.
But the home will be more than a start for one family.
It will represent the opportunity for a thousand aspiring entrepreneurs in 16 of the most impoverished countries in the world to make their own dreams come true.
McCall Homes, homebuilder for the subdivision, is partnering with nearly 40 subcontractors and vendors to donate a portion of their work in building the home.
The goal is to generate $100,000 to fund small-business loans, or microloans, around the world through the work of an international nonprofit.
Homes for Hope
The house is the first in Montana to be built under the auspices of Homes for Hope, a nonprofit organization that operates in the building industry.
Homes for Hope works with builders and their trade partners to build houses that then generate revenue to help eliminate world poverty.
The nonprofit primarily works with HOPE International, a faith-based organization that provides microloans, savings services, training and mentoring to help people in developing countries become self-sufficient.
On Thursday, more than 40 people gathered at the Josephine Crossing home site for a groundbreaking ceremony to launch the Billings project.
Greg McCall kicked off the event by telling how HOPE International and Homes for Hope got started. Help in the 1990s
The common denominator is Jeff Rutt, a Pennsylvania homebuilder, who was part of an effort in the late 1990s to provide aid to Ukraine.
Rutt would build a home and take the proceeds of that home and join with others in buying supplies that the community desperately needed, McCall said.
The first year, the cargo shipment of food, medical supplies and clothing was extremely welcome. Over time, however, the people became so dependent on the supplies that the effort was no longer effective.
Rutt founded HOPE International to give people a hand up, McCall said. A combination of loans and mentoring and savings services can make that happen.
"In a developing country, a $50 loan might be the single thing that allows somebody to be able to get a head start to pull themselves out of poverty," he said.
Rutt founded Homes for Hope to get the building industry involved in the effort. Since its start, McCall said, the nonprofit has fueled millions of loans through HOPE International.
In November, McCall and his wife, Erin, traveled to the Dominican Republic to see the program in action. He talked about one woman he met who got her first loan for $50 and now owns a corner store.
The store has net sales of more than $50 every single day, he said. A translator introduced McCall and other builders to the woman.
"She looked right at us and she said 'I get it, you're part of my business,' " McCall said. "She didn't say 'thank you for the gift,' because it wasn't a gift. It was a loan."
With the average loan of $50 and 98 percent of the loans repaid, McCall estimates the $100,000 contribution from the Billings group will translate into change in the lives of 1,000 people just in the first six months.
Jeff Scherr, owner of Comfort Heating and Air Conditioning in Billings, has committed his business to being part of the Homes for Hope project. At the groundbreaking, he told the others that his office is inundated every week with charity requests, but this one grabbed his attention.
"The thing that sparked me was the whole parable of 'give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he'll fish for a lifetime,' " Scherr said. "When I saw these little tiny loans going to these people and what they were able to purchase ... to me this was not just a charity, but an uplifting thing."
Caroline Jones, student body president at Rocky Mountain College, told the group that last summer she had the opportunity to work at the Pennsylvania headquarters of Hope International. She called it an incredible organization.
Piggybacking on Scherr's comments, Jones said the people who receive the loans know how to fish, "but they don't have a fishing pole or access to a lake or a boat or a net, whatever it may be."
HOPE International can give those people the tools they need to succeed, she said. Jones congratulated the group on their decision to get involved.
"You're taking your skills that you do every day and investing that in the dreams of the poor so they can provide for their families," she said.