Building Homes, Rebuilding Lives! Washington County's Mr. Habitat
Building Homes, Rebuilding Lives!
Washington County's Mr. Habitat
"Everyone who knew Fred called him 'Mr. Habitat'," said Sherry Brown Cooper, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Washington County.
Frederick "Fred" Cialli, stricken with Alzheimer's disease died recently, but left a legacy in Washington County. Without Fred's determination, vision and compassion, twenty-two homes housing seventy-two people may not have been possible in Washington County.
Fred and wife, Shirlianne, along with another couple, Mike and Jan Dreisbach, got together in 1994, to start the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Washington County. About the same time, Fred was diagnosed with cancer, but he overcame the disease and continued volunteering his time and energy to building homes for Habitat.
Fred was born in New Your City in 1926, and served in the Army during World War II. After the War, he completed his undergraduate degree at West Virginia University and obtained his graduate degree from the University of Maryland. He began his career as an educator in Allegany County. Later he moved to Montgomery County where he spent the remainder of his teaching career until retirement at age 50. Upon retirement he moved his family to Berkeley Springs, W.Va. There, Fred co-founded the Morgan County Emergency Assistance Team, which is still functioning to assist families in need.
Then in 1994, he with wife, Shirlianne, joined their friends, the Dreisbachs, to seek ways to help other families have their own homes. Since the first Maryland affiliate of Habitat for Humanity had started in 1982, they were aware that this goal of theirs could be achieved. So they started the local affiliate.
Since Habitat for Humanity of Washington County was established, literally thousands of volunteers have become involved in its mission to eliminate substandard housing in our county. The impact on the families owning these homes is amazing. The low-income families find safe, affordable housing, that basic need for every family.
Without a decent place to live, people cannot be productive members of society, children cannot learn and families cannot thrive.
Fred Cialli knew that, and decided to do something about it! And while he was instrumental in getting it started, the housing problems still exist. Until this housing crisis is remedied, other social problems will be inadequately addressed. Families will continue to lose battles against crime, poor education, inadequate nutrition, decaying neighborhoods, insufficient health care and welfare dependency. But, by far, the biggest challenge facing poor families is housing affordability. Families who pay a large part of their incomes for housing often have little left for food, clothing, health care and other necessities.
Habitat is teaching families how to manage their income. Families put in 500 hours of "sweat equity" helping to build their home and other Habitat homes. Families pay no-interest mortgage payments to Habitat.
In a study by Habitat for Humanity International, 38 percent of Habitat homeowners report a positive impact on the physical health of their children, 67 percent report less conflict in family relationships, and 63 percent indicate a positive change in their children's school performance.
And homeownership programs make communities, neighborhoods and families stronger.
Yes, Fred Cialli, you started something in Washington County! Something good! Thank you! Those of us left behind to continue your work, salute you! Mr. Habitat, your dedication will be long remembered!
William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.