The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 16, 2000 Issue
Local News

Valley housing first aids Sarajevo refugee

Women team up to build Appleton Habitat for Humanity house

By Maureen Blaney Flietner
Compass Correspondent

Zorica Kravic finally feels at home in northeast Wisconsin after fleeing war-torn Sarajevo in 1996.

Soon she will be living in her own house through the first Fox Cities housing project of Women Build - a nationally recognized affiliate of Habitat for Humanity - which uses all-women construction crews to build houses for needy families.

Kravic, who works part-time as a refugee case manager for the Green Bay Diocese's Department of Refugees, Migration and Hispanic Services (RMH), and her family will live at 2320 W. Prospect Ave., Appleton, after the 500-women crew finishes work this week on the 1,260-square-foot ranch style house.

The experience is "very exciting. We're going to have a home again," said Kravic. It has made her realize "you have friends all over. Lots of friends and co-workers are going to help. People will help though most of them don't know me. It's made me finally feel at home."

Kravic joined the other women - who come from churches and business groups as well as individuals - June 10-17 in working on the house as part of her "sweat equity."

"Due to the tremendous response, the project is at capacity for volunteers," said Sandy Laux, office manager for Habitat for Humanity. "Some women took off the whole week from work for the project. We tried to give everybody at least a day. It's been a little overwhelming."

While some of the women were experienced in drywall, carpentry and electrical work, about 75% of the volunteers took free classes offered by the North East Wisconsin Regional Council of Carpenters. All of the project's crew leaders are women and the project is being supervised by such construction experts as Sue Christianson, Mary Ann Moore Church and Cheryl Cowling.

Men, too, are involved - preparing and serving meals, doing clean-up, providing child care and organizing a fund-raising golf outing for June 17.

Kravic was chosen from among several applicants based on need, ability to pay and willingness to help build the house or to provide office help, Laux said. While some lots are purchased, this one was donated by Peter Heid.

"This is no giveaway," said Laux. "The house is sold and we finance it but there is no interest charged on the mortgage and sometimes grants are available." Because all the labor is donated, the mortgage is considerably less than what a similar home would cost.

Under sponsorship of the diocese, Kravic escaped the terrors of the Bosnian war in March 1996 with her two children. She expected her husband to follow. Instead, he divorced her and remained behind. A year later, her brother and his family arrived. Her parents joined them in 1998.

Kravic, who had been a physician and pulmonary specialist, looked at resuming her medical career in the U.S., but found that re-certification would be a lengthy and expensive process. She decided, instead, to pursue a degree in nursing.

She also wants to have more time for her son Ivan, 9, and daughter Jelena, 13. "School activities, sports. This is their future. I want to spend more time with them, to support them."

Barbara Biebel, diocesan director of RMH, said Kravic has "been very generous and gracious with her time. She has taught us about Bosnia, given us a cultural orientation. It's made us more sensitive to the situation there ... where they are, what to expect."

Kravic helps other refugees become familiar with their new home, including visiting families and working with available resources to get them help.

Last year, the U.S. Catholic Conference and its 106 diocesan affiliates resettled 21,500 refugees - more than one-fourth of the refugees resettled in the U.S. - from 50 counties. The Green Bay Diocese resettled 61 refugees. RMH hopes to resettle 120 refugees this year, but has resettled only 35 thus far, mainly Bosnian and Somali, Biebel said.

"We don't have enough sponsors," she said. When wars make front-page news, RMH frequently gets calls from those wanting to co-sponsor refugees. When it disappears to the back pages, so do many of the calls, Biebel said.

And what does it cost?

"It depends on what is donated. Probably the least amount needed is $3,000 but it probably costs about $5,000. It depends on how quickly the refugees find jobs," Biebel said. "Sponsors agree to meet them at the airport, find housing for them, help them find jobs. We ask any co-sponsors to stick with it for six months."

For more information on sponsoring a refugee family, phone RMH at (920)437-7531 or toll-free, 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8247.

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