WASHBURN, Maine — After helping to build two homes for other people at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle in the 1990s, Bob Chavez finally realized his dream in 2010 when a group of students built one for him.
He did not know at the time that the 1,300-square-foot modular ranch-style home constructed for him and his partner, Jenny Charette, and her 7-year-old daughter, Natalie Charette, would be one of the last five built.
Sinawik, which is Kiwanis spelled backward, is a for-profit organization founded by the local Kiwanis Club that has partnered to build a low-cost home each year for an area family.
Pam Buck, chair of the Northern Maine Community College department of trade and technical occupations, said earlier this week that the program was ending because of the college’s need to shift from residential construction to building construction technology. She said that Northern Maine Community College instructors needed the flexibility to add in more training in industrial and commercial construction.
The 38th and final home will go to Carol and Bill White of Crouseville.
Jenny Charette, who lives with her family in Washburn in the 33rd Sinawik home, said Friday that she was sorry to hear that no more homes would be built.
“It is such a good program,” she said. “It gives the students so much experience.”
The college and Kiwanis formed Sinawik in 1976 to provide low-cost housing to qualified area homebuyers while giving Northern Maine Community College trade and technical occupation students construction experience.
Sinawik finds a buyer through a first-come, first-served application process and pays for much of the construction costs, according to its website. That includes building materials, plumbing and heating materials and fixtures, painting and the cost of moving the home from campus to its destination. The buyer is responsible for application fees, installation of the foundation, earthwork, exterior water and septic, kitchen and bath cabinets, exterior siding, appliances and finished flooring.
After construction, Sinawik is able to sell the home at a reduced price to the new residents because of the free labor. Sinawik uses some of the proceeds for charitable causes and scholarships.
The home building projects have provided a range of training for students, from computer-aided drafting to residential construction finish work.
Guy Jackson, a former residential construction instructor at Northern Maine Community College, helped students build 30 Sinawik homes across Aroostook County before retiring from the college in 2011.
Terrence and Carolyn Hanlon moved from Windham to Chapman after Northern Maine Community College students built their 1,400-square-foot modular ranch-style home in 2011, the 34th one constructed as a result of the partnership. Carolyn Hanlon is originally from Washburn.
Terrence Hanlon said Friday that he enjoyed every step of the process, meeting weekly with Jackson and his students and coming to appreciate their craftsmanship so much that he hired several of the students to help him build a garage and breezeway for his new home.
“I don’t think it is a good idea that they are ending the program,” he said. “It gives a lot of people a good education and a good way to earn a living. I can’t say enough great things about it.”
Michelle Cushman, president of Sinawik, said in a written statement that the club is proud of what the program has done for people and the community.
“The collaboration between Sinawik and the college has been important to our community and has provided a unique opportunity for homeownership at a reasonable cost,” she said.
Chavez and Charette said they had only dreamed about owning a home before they heard about the Sinawik program.
“My daughter was so excited when she heard we would be getting a home,” Charette said Friday. “All that she could talk about was getting into that house. She was so involved in the process. She picked out her light and her fan for her room. The students worked on it for that whole school year.”
She said that after the home was set on their property, the college made sure there were no issues.
“They follow you the whole year afterward to make sure that you do not have any problems,” said Charette. “We are so happy. To this day, my daughter really does not like to participate in sleepovers. She wants to be in her home. She loves our home.”