Habitat for Humanity made an American Dream real
homeowner classes, and 300 hours (for a single parent) or 350 (for a dual parent family) of sweat equity.
“A lot of people think that when you get a home from Habitat, it’s free,” Chhorm says. “It’s not. There is a lot of hard work, a lot of classes, and I pay a
Chhorm worked every Saturday on her own home and other Habitat homes. She has put up drywall, siding, and helped with the roofing. She says that
working on her own home and connecting with Habitat volunteers and her new neighbors, has been a unique, community-building experience.
“I believe that there are many good people out there helping to make a difference,” Chhorm says. “I really found community working with Habitat.”
According to Family Services Coordinator Maggie Fitzsimmons, there are many benefits for Habitat homeowners, including community-building, pride in
building their own home, and an increased sense of ownership. Most importantly, she says, “The number one thing that I hear from Habitat homeowners, is that
owning their own home provides a stable environment for them to raise their families.”
Riddled with a past filled with struggle and hardship, Chhorm has long been in search of stability for herself and her family.
“I was born in Cambodia in 1975, the year that also marked the beginning of the Khmer Rouge’s reign in Cambodia,” Chhorm says. “Referred to as ‘The
Killing Fields,’ it was one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th Century.”
The Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people. Led by notorious leader Pol Pot, this extremist outfit forced entire
populations out of the cities and onto labor camps; they closed schools and hospitals; outlawed religions; and confiscated private property.
Once farmers in Battandong, Chhorm’s parents cared for their younger children (the elder children were forced to work in labor camps) in the forests of
Cambodia. When Chhorm was just three years old, the family escaped into Thailand. From there the struggles continued.
“After living in Thailand refugee camps for so many years, I eventually came to America, the land of freedom and opportunity. My father died when I was
four years old and left my mother with eight children to raise on her own. We were very poor, living in low-income housing. My mother [had] no education or
knowledge of American culture, so she struggled through many challenges.”
Chhorm’s mother died when she was just 13 and Chhorm shuffled from place to place with her sister’s family, eventually ending up in Madison’s Allied Drive
neighborhood. Later, Chhorm would move in with a Mormon family in Cross Plains where she says she was finally able to develop her identity and become
involved in her school and community.
Chhorm met the man she would eventually marry as a senior in high school. The couple had four children; Chhorm graduated from MATC in Early
Childhood Education and began working at MATC’s Child and Family Center. She served as president for the Khmer Association of Wisconsin and became
involved (and still is to date) with the Cambodian student group at UW-Madison. She thought, maybe, now she had found stability.
“I wanted the perfect family,” Chhorm said. Yet, Chhorm’s divorce would find her struggling once again. It is thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Dane County,
she says, that she is once again on her feet.
“Habitat for Humanity of Dane County has given me the gift of hope,” Chhorm says. “We all can overcome any struggle and challenge as long as there is a
helping hand to hold on to, and Habitat for Humanity of Dane County has reached their hands to help my family and others like mine to build a home … so we
can feel safe and loved.”
While Habitat is a helping hand, Chhorm has proved she is a tenacious soldier in the struggle to find stability, peace, and a home for her family.
“She’s had such a difficult past and she’s come so far,” Fitzsimmons says. “I know that she worked really hard and that it means so much to her and her family.
She’s got such a strong spirit.”
To learn more about becoming a Habitat homeowner, you can attend one of the following upcoming Habitat Informational Meetings:
• Wednesday, April 15, 6:30 p.m., Boys and Girls Club, 4705 Jenewein Dr. (just off of Allied Drive)
• Sunday, April 19, 6:30 p.m. Warner Park Community Recreation Center, 1625 Northport Dr.
If you would like to be notified about upcoming Informational Meetings, please contact Habitat for Humanity of Dane County at 255-1549, ext. 112. Please
leave your name, address and phone number at the main number. To hear a list of qualifications for home ownership, call 255-1549, ext. 212. For more
information about Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, go to www.habitatdane.org.
By Laura Salinger
Savang Chhorm, a childcare coordinator at MATC (Madison Area Technical College) and
active Cambodian community leader, recently got a second lease on life when she and her four
children moved into their very own home in Sun Prairie. A recently-divorced, single mom,
Chhorm longed to once again own a home — after living with a friend for six months and then in
a rental unit — but didn’t quite know how to fulfill that dream.
On Dec. 18, Chhorm closed on a brand new home thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Dane
County and says she feels blessed to get a second chance at life. Habitat for Humanity, a
Christian-based non-profit, helps low to mid-income individuals and families fulfill that age-old
American dream of owning a home.
“Habitat was founded about 30 years ago in Georgia,” Habitat for Humanity of Dane County
Communications Coordinator Cheryl McCollum explains. “They thought every family deserved
simple, decent, and affordable housing. It’s not Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. None of our
homeowners go off to Disney World and come home to a mansion. They are simple homes that
are easy to maintain. The goal is to get people out of substandard housing.”
Since Habitat for Humanity of Dane County’s inception 21 years ago, they have built 149
homes. In 2008 alone, they built 19 homes, and their goal for 2009 is 20 homes. Both Chhorm
and McCollum stress that Habitat homes aren’t handouts. While new homeowners benefit greatly
from a zero-percent interest rate on their mortgage loan, they have to fulfill a number of
requirements — including the completion of an 18-page application, numerous financial and
|Savang Chhorm and her children — Vince, Vanessa, Victor
and Vivian — in front of their new home in Sun Prairie.