South Plainfield resident Dahiana Mercer was looking about five years ago for a way to leave the one-bedroom apartment she shared with her daughter, now 12-year-old Alissa, but couldn't find the right place.
First, Mercer said, she couldn't find an affordable housing apartment through the Somerset County Council on Affordable Housing [SCCOAH] with a rent lower than $1,000. And then, she said, she found that rent is only lowered in affordable housing for families with more than one child.
"The more kids you have, the easier it is for assistance," she said. "By the time I paid all my private bills and the car bills, there was not enough money left for rent."
Then Mercer, who worked at the time for a pharmaceutical company, received a brochure about a conference through Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity, and, five years later, she joined dignitaries, her now two daughters and others for the dedication Friday of her new home on Dutch Lane in Bridgewater.
"I am so excited and happy to be here," she said.
The house was dedicated by the Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity, as one of seven already completed on the same street, and with one more still in the works with the expectation of being ready by the end of February.
To be considered for a home, a family must prove the need for it, meaning the members use 30 to 50 percent of their income for housing. The family also has to have the financial wherewithal to live in a home.
Those who receive a home through Habitat receive a 0 percent interest mortgage with no down payment.
Mercer's home was sponsored by several businesses that have put time and money together for building the property. Those businesses involved were , QualComm, TD Bank, MetLife and Amboy Bank.
"We've always been involved with Habitat," said Melissa Feltmann, director of New Jersey Partnerships & Alliances with Sanofi-Aventis. "It is a great opportunity to get out and build, and for us to provide the resources to help better the Bridgewater community that has been a great place for us."
"It's a great way to help another family become part of the community," she added.
Feltmann said Sanofi has worked with Habitat since 2001, and the company has had about 400 employee volunteers provide 3,200 total hours of service.
And aside from the businesses were local churches and school groups that donated their time to build the house.
"Businesses volunteered time and monetary cooperation in addition to the labor," said Lorraine Mackin, development director for the Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity. "They sent many employees out to build on the site."
Mackin said it took a total of 2,800 hours from volunteers to build the one home.
"That's amazing," she said. "They all believe in the mission that every person deserves a decent affordable home."
But part of the requirements to qualify for a house from Habitat is for the recipient to donate 250 hours to building as well.
For Mercer, that required giving up many Saturdays.
"My mom was here, and my dad helped, so I was able to come by on weekends, mostly Saturday," she said, adding that her job kept her away during the week and church obligations kept her busy on Sundays. "But from when the project began, I was very involved in working on all the homes."
Mercer said the assistance from others was the most important piece of the puzzle.
"It was awesome, and my main focus is how many people helped," she said. "Even when some people's own hours were done, they came to help in my house."
"And I will keep helping, this is a big deal," she added. "I want to be part of this, and it is nice to help someone else."
Despite all it took to get to this point, Mercer said, the celebration is not about anything in her past, just the fact that so many people came together to make this new home a reality for her and her family.
"There has to be love in their hearts because it takes such a commitment for people to come and help out another family," she said of the many volunteers during the dedication. "I can't tell you from the bottom of my heart how grateful I am."
The volunteerism is a huge part of what makes the work through Habitat possible.
"Some don't believe we can do this with a group of volunteers, most unskilled," said Nancy Asbury, executive director of Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity. "But many come out and they build a home."
Linda Bradway, who was Mercer's liaison to Habitat, said the building took more than two years from when the application for the house was first approved in 2008.
"I can't imagine waiting that long for a house to be built," Bradway said. "She's had so many changes in her life."
"But Dahiana never gave up hope that she would provide a home for herself and her daughters," she said. "The day is here, and the house is done and waiting for you to move in."
The dedication ceremony included a ribbon cutting in front of the house, and a presentation of the key by Bridgewater Township Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose.
"It is such a pleasure to welcome you to Bridgewater," she said.
And for Mercer, whose second daughter Marih was born just five months before the building began on the house, she is excited to be part of the community, with a plan to hopefully move in around the beginning of March.
"It is a relief to bring my children to this house," she said.