Habitat for Humanity is reaching out to Mayflower and Vilonia tornado victims through cleanup efforts as well as repairs and new construction for those who qualify.

Shenel Sandidge, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, has been taking groups of 75 volunteers at a time into the disaster areas every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to help with the massive cleanup effort.

"A lot of people have come together to do the work. A lot has been done, but there’s still a lot to do," she said. "People who had insurance are probably going to be OK. I’m worried about the under-insured or uninsured, the ones who were renting and our elderly."

For storm victims in those categories, Habitat for Humanity is opening an application period for its new-home building program. If approved, these families could qualify for a zero percent interest mortgage through Habitat for a home of their own.

Sandidge said, "We’re targeting the under-insured, low-income, working families that may have been renting but have income and could own (a home), and the elderly and disabled, and veterans."

She noted veterans have a different, more lenient income requirement for eligibility.

"Every home has a mortgage attached," Sandidge explained. "The only difference between a mortgage with us and a mortgage with anyone else is it’s zero percent for up to 25 years, and the taxes and insurance are included, all at an average of below $500 per month."

She said the nonprofit organization is having a hard time reaching tornado victims in need of assistance, because many people do not know what Habitat for Humanity does in Faulkner County.

"We’re getting a lot of calls from Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, and our local Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Hot Springs, Fayetteville and Benton. A lot of people want to partner with us to help expedite the people getting into a house. I’m just waiting to see how many people we can serve. We’re planning to serve a minimum of six families, but that could grow. We could serve many more families."

After a family applies, Habitat’s family service committee processes the application. Eligibility is based on need, disability and income.

"We do budgeting classes, first time homeowner classes, credit counseling classes," Sandidge said. "We hold the mortgages, so we stay with them throughout the whole process."

Habitat for Humanity has built 21 homes in Conway, but this will be its first time to build homes in Mayflower or Vilonia, she said, and she is looking forward to it.

"Then we will actually be serving all of Faulkner County," she added.

To request help, or to volunteer, call Habitat for Humanity at 501-513-3244.

Sandidge continued, "Some families just had damage. We can do repairs, replace windows, especially for our elderly. They need something to fix up where they are now. They’re not looking to rebuild or relocate."

The organization has a free program called A Brush With Kindness that involves exterior repairs, painting, landscaping, etc. Habitat serves several families per year in this way. Habitat’s Repair Program provides up to $5,000 in repairs at zero percent interest that the homeowner can pay back over a year, Sandidge said.

She hopes that getting the word out will enable Habitat to help more low-income, disabled or elderly people, but it will be a process for those displaced by the tornado.

"They’re living with friends or they’re renting from family members. They’re all compacted together. Some of them are in hotels," she said. "The family I talked to yesterday, their home was hit three times and they don’t want to be there anymore. Some people will want to relocate. Right now they’re so timid and scared they don’t know what to do. But they want to remain in Faulkner County."

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by email at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)