LEWISTOWN - For three years, Christy and Matthew Clark and their three children were sick almost every day. They coughed relentlessly and the hair of their 8-year-old daughter, Spring Rapp, had stopped growing.
"They were telling her in school that she had cancer," Christy said. "At that point, I said, 'We're going to figure this out.'"
After a year of research, the family's doctor told them their house was filled with black mold and the infestation was attacking their respiratory systems. The Clarks said they were unable to resolve the issue with their landlord, but ultimately, all they really wanted was a safe place to call home.
Sentinel photo by ASHLIE?CROSSON
Christy and Matthew Clark and their three children, Spring, Bradley and Kennith Rapp have been selected by Habitat for Humanity to receive a house that will be built starting in the next few weeks. The family was chosen based on their need, ability to pay for the house’s mortgage and their willingness to partner with the organization.
"We could've made a big deal out of it, but it's just not worth it to me," Christy said.
The Clarks and their children moved out of their house and started staying with a family friend, but the arrangement was not ideal. The family of five was living in a house meant for one man, and while they were thankful for his graciousness, everything from the location to the water supply was a difficulty.
But now, after more than three years of hardship, it appears that everything is about to work itself out.
Christy, Matthew, Spring, and the Clark's two other children - 14-year-old Kennith and 12-year-old Bradley Rapp - are about to break ground on a new house designed specifically with them in mind; the family has been selected to receive a home from the Mifflin County Habitat for Humanity.
The home, which has four bedrooms, two baths and an open floor plan is exactly what Christy and Matthew Clark have been hoping for.
"Where we are now, it's so hard to see from room to room," she said. "When [the committee] said open floor plan, I just jumped up and down. I cried."
Additionally, Christy is looking forward to her future kitchen.
"We all bake; we all cook," she said, "and the yard. Everybody is looking forward to the yard."
"The basement," Matthew added. "I've got to have my workshop."
The children are excited to personalize their bedrooms for the first time. Spring hopes to paint hers pink and purple, Kennith has plans for green and black stripes, and Bradley has a dirtbike and four-wheeler theme in mind.
The Clarks also said they are excited to have the opportunity to get their children involved in exracurricular activities, such as dance and tae-kwon-do, now that they will be living in town.
Chapter secretary Wanda McCullough said the Mifflin County Habitat for Humanity begins planning for its next project about once every two years. The chapter has built five houses since 2000, with the most recent home - a duplex - completed on Third Street in Lewistown in 2009.
"We're hoping to break ground in a week or two," McCullough said.
The Clarks were chosen after completing an application and being interviewed by a representative from Habitat for Humanity. To be considered by the organization, families are evaluated by a list of criteria: need, ability to pay, and willingness to participate as a partner with Habitat.
"We look for the families that might fall through the cracks," said Janie Welshans, who heads the family selection committee. "Maybe just that one chance, we'll get them back up to where they can do better."
Welshans explained that a family's need is based on lack of adequate housing, which may include problems with the present structure, water, electrical or sewage service systems, heating system, or failure to meet city property standards.
After a need is established, the organization then has to consider the other two factors: the family's ability to meet their financial obligations and their interest in putting in the effort to build their house.
Although the families do not have to go through a mortgage process with a bank, they are required to pay back the interest-free loan that is provided to them by Habitat for Humanity, and that money is then used to pay for the next house built by the organization.
"We're not going to expect a perfect credit rating, by no means, but we will look how they spend their money to keep their bills paid and have they made an effort to get themselves out," Welshans said. "They've got themselves into a cycle where it's hard to get out of, and this step up is all they need."
Once financial responsibility is determined, participants must also put in at least 500 hours of "sweat equity," in which they volunteer their efforts toward building their home.
All of the construction for the house will be completed through volunteer work, and the Clarks and their children are ready to put in the man-power needed to get their house completed.
Christy Clark said she's looking forward to dry-walling, and the children are eager and willing to pick up a few tools and get to work.
President Jeff Bell said he encourages everyone to participate in the building process and noted that church groups, employees of GE Inspection Technologies, the United Way, and those required to complete community service hours have all aided in previous constructions.
Habitat for Humanity has planned for the house, which is to be built on donated land on North Wayne Street, to maintain the same character that is already present in the downtown Lewistown area.
"They're working hard at keeping it fitting to the area," McCullough said.
After the Clarks and their children move in, the family will be responsible for all maintenance and repairs and will particpate in financial counseling and household maintenance education.
Most of all, Christy said her family is excited to finally have the chance to start giving back.
Every year, Christy, Matthew and their children spearhead the prop making for their church's annual vacation Bible school, but lately it has been difficult finding the space to assemble all of the projects.
"From now on, we'll be able to do that at our own home," she said.