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Friday, September 4th, 2015

Lots for Soldiers home program growing rapidly

By Claire Giesige
CELINA - Lots for Soldiers, a nonprofit organization that provides homes at the lowest possible price to those who have served or are serving in the armed forces, is expanding at an unforeseen rate.
"When we first started, we were hoping we could do one (house) a year. But now it's gotten to the point where communities are coming to us. We never intended to have four properties ready to go," said Homer Burnett, who along with his wife, Carol, founded the organization.
Planned or not, the year-old organization has grown by leaps and bounds. It has four lots in various stages of development: two in Celina, one in Rockford and one in St. Marys.
"We seem to have hit a nerve, especially after the first house. There's a tremendous need on people's parts to say thank you, to do something tangible for veterans and currently serving military personnel. And so we've kind of tapped into that undercurrent of people wanting to serve in some fashion," Homer Burnett, a Vietnam veteran, said.
Lots for Soldiers either receives lots as donations or buys them, typically at a reduced rate. A committee then selects from among former or current service members who apply. The committees are made up of one or two Lots for Soldiers associates and six to eight community members. After the chosen applicant secures financing, a house is built with volunteer labor and donated or discounted supplies.
On Monday, Celina City Council passed final reading of an ordinance to annex a Livingston Street lot that was purchased by Jim and Mary Godwin of Jim's Harley-Davidson in Mendon and then donated to the group. The lot was awarded to local vietnam vet John Dziengelewski and his wife, Beverly. Construction will begin after the annexation is complete and the couple secure financing.
The other Celina lot is located on Godfrey Street, where last year's house was built. That land was purchased in 2013.
The Rockford lot was recently purchased for $8,500, a reduction from the $15,000 asking price.
"Roy Thompson and his wife, who sold us the lot, were very generous to us," Carol Burnett said. "We've had a great response from Rockford so far."
Marshalls in Celina donated $5,000 at their grand opening to help cover the cost of the lot. The Rockford Eagles and private individuals donated the remaining funds, the Burnetts said.
The St. Marys lot is being purchased. It was valued at $20,000 but the city offered to sell it to the organization for $6,000.
Lots for Soldiers is seeking applicants for the three unclaimed lots. A common misconception is that the program is need-based and meant for those in dire financial straits, according to the Burnetts. However, the only one eligibility requirement is that the applicant must be a current or former service member.
"One of our biggest challenges is getting applications because they (servicepersons) think it's needs-based," Homer Burnett said. "And they think, 'there's someone who needs it more than me.' But it's not need-based. It's our opportunity to say thank you."
"You can't explain it until you see it or feel it, when the people come forward to give their thanks. They appreciate that those people were willing to step up for us so that we can be free," Carol Burnett added. "How do you say thank you to someone who's willing to step in front of a bullet to give you that freedom?"
The program will continue to grow next year as the Burnetts have been approached by communities in southern Auglaize County, such as Minster and New Bremen. They've also received interest from Berne, Ind.
However, Indiana won't be the only state to which the Celina-based organization will expand. The Burnetts are working with someone in their organization to develop a branch in Kansas. A woman has volunteered to work alongside the Burnetts for the next two years to learn the process. After the observation period, the woman plans to retire and move to Kansas with her family and start a division of Lots for Soldiers there.
The woman has elected to remain anonymous, which makes sense because modesty is a trend for the Lots for Soldiers bunch.
"We don't want the focus to be on us. We want the focus to be on the organization. Remember Lots for Soldiers. That's what it's about," Carol Burnett said.
Despite the organization's expansion, the Burnetts aren't worried about running out of volunteers or benefactors.
"We've just had such great community responses," Carol Burnett said. "For example, over 216 people contributed to the Livingston Street lot in Celina."
Carol Burnett believes that something larger is at work when it comes to the success of their organization.
"Lots for Soldiers isn't faith-based but my husband and I totally are. The Lord will provide," she said. "As long as we step and walk that way, we have yet to falter. With these lots and the pricing, the donations, we didn't have any influence on that."
Applications can be downloaded at lotsforsoldiers.com. Financial or in-kind support can be addressed to Lots for Soldiers, 201 Jill Ave., Celina. To contact the organization, call 419-586-5058.
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