Stacey Bowden of Buckfield and Mike Iwans of Community Concepts build window frames on the site of Bowden’s future house in Leeds. The single mother of four currently lives in a two-bedroom trailer in Buckfield. She is helping to build her own home through Community Concepts’ Self-Help Home Ownership program.

Stacey Bowden would not get near a nail gun when she started on her home in Leeds, said Mike Iwans of Community Concepts. Bowden has no problem now: She built window frames with a nail gun on a recent Saturday.

Melissa Gamblin, right, of Lewiston helps Stacey Bowden build her house in Leeds. Jeff Hanscom, left, also of Lewiston and Mike Iwans of Community Concepts were on site during a frigid January day that kept crews inside working in the basement.

Stacey Bowden’s home is being built in Leeds.

Building the dream

About this series

From now until fall, the Sun Journal will publish an occasional story about several local families working to achieve the American dream of owning their own homes through a program called Self-Help Home Ownership.

Each weekend teams of six families take turns going to each other’s house lots to build three-bedroom ranches. In this first story about the “Air Guns and Roses” team of six families, we introduce you to Stacey Bowden, a working single mother of four building her first home in Leeds.

The program is run by Community Concepts of South Paris, building more than 185 homes since 1995. For more information, go to www.community-concepts.org.

LEEDS — By occupation Stacey Bowden works at TJ Maxx.

But every weekend she works in home construction.

A single mother of four, Bowden wants her own home. So, with help from some friends, she’s building her own home in the ultimate do-it-yourself style.

Bowden belongs to a group of six families building homes through Community Concepts’ Self-Help Home Ownership program. It’s sort of a modern-day barn-raising where everyone gets together and helps.

None of the six families will move into their homes until all six are complete. The houses are energy-efficient, three-bedroom ranches.

Bowden and her four children now live in a two-bedroom trailer in Buckfield, which is too small, Bowden said. “So our new home will be so much appreciated.”

Each weekend adults in the families, who are not in construction by trade, show up at one of the construction sites in Jay, Lewiston or Leeds to build.

“They do the work,” said Jim Wilkins, director of advancement at Community Concepts in South Paris. The only work they don’t do is the plumbing, electrical and heavy concrete. Their work is taught and overseen by a professional home construction supervisor.

The program is not a handout.

“The families are paying for everything having to do with the house,” Wilkins said. They’ll have mortgages. By doing the construction themselves, “they’ll be saving a huge amount of money. When they move in, they’ll have $20,000 in equity because they’ve done the work.”

People accepted into the program must have jobs, must be first-time homeowners and must have a decent credit rating accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will hold the mortgages.

Depending on income, interest rates are subsidized from 1 to 5.5 percent. Their mortgages will be less than the cost of renting three-bedroom units, less than $700 per month. If the house is sold within five to 10 years, the homeowners must pay back the difference in the interest rate they received compared to the market value, Wilkins said.

People accepted into the program sign contracts agreeing to do the construction work. They agree to show up at the job site every Saturday and Sunday, except for agreed-upon weekends the group takes off. After working at full-time jobs all week, building every weekend isn’t easy, participants said. But it’s the only way to get their houses built for less.

“You work your tail off for 12 or 14 months, but you own your own home with a mortgage you can afford, and a house you can afford to heat and keep lit,” Wilkins said. “What a gift to yourself.”

On a recent, frigid Saturday, Bowden wore a heavy sweatshirt and a winter hat as she swung a hammer in the basement, the only part of the house that’s finished.

The foundation was poured and covered. The basement ceiling and first floor were up, as was an exterior door. That door will provide Bowden’s family with a walk-out basement. With four children, “I need the space,” she said.

A generator hummed outside, providing heat and power, keeping the inside of the basement comfortable.

The initial plan that Saturday was to erect exterior walls. That was scrapped because of the unseasonable cold, said construction supervisor Mike Iwans. Volunteers instead hauled lumber and built window frames.

“By getting the windows done ahead of time, it’ll go faster when the walls go up,” Iwans said. “The next step will be the exterior walls.”

Bowden said she signed up for the program “because I want my children to have a home, not a trailer or an apartment. I want a permanent place for them, with some land.”

Her children range in age from 6 to 15. “They’re ready to move in now,” she said.

Bowden said she never saw herself as a homeowner, not to mention a home-builder. “It’s a lot of work. I’ve had to do a lot of rescheduling at my job. When I tell people I’m building my home, they’re shocked I’m doing all this.”

In the months it takes for each group of six families to build their homes, it doesn’t always go smoothly. There are occasional problems with families not showing up, not putting in enough hours. Those issues have to be resolved before they become homeowners.

“A lot of them say, ‘I could never do this.’ But they do,” Wilkins said.

In addition to the other families in her group, Bowden gets help from her parents and friends. On this day, friends Jeff Hanscom and Melissa Gamblin, who live in Lewiston, were there to help.

On the basement door was a sign that read: “Stacey Bowden.”

“I built these walls,” Bowden said. She pointed to the ceiling showing where her living room, kitchen and bedrooms will be, and smiled as she thought about living in her finished home.

“I’m excited,” she said.

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Building the dream

About this series

From now until fall, the Sun Journal will publish an occasional story about several local families working to achieve the American dream of owning their own homes through a program called Self-Help Home Ownership.

Each weekend teams of six families take turns going to each other’s house lots to build three-bedroom ranches. In this first story about the “Air Guns and Roses” team of six families, we introduce you to Stacey Bowden, a working single mother of four building her first home in Leeds.

The program is run by Community Concepts of South Paris, building more than 185 homes since 1995. For more information, go to www.community-concepts.org.


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