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Orange County

These O.C. Habitat Homes Go Digital

The county's newest houses for the needy include a computer to help families learn, plan.

September 14, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

Cynthia Cotteta and Joanne Smith are crawling through rafters with hammers in hand, looking like seasoned carpenters as they search for flaws in the plywood sheets that cover one of Costa Mesa's newest homes.

On the floor beneath them, Melissa Joseph is pounding nails into a long steel strip that will help keep the walls of this duplex from collapsing in an earthquake.

Until Saturday, this trio had not a shred of construction experience. In fact, the women spend most of their days in business suits, not work boots, hammering at keyboards.

They all have careers in computer technology. But, as members of the Assn. for Women in Technology, they were sweating it out for Habitat for Humanity, which is adding a cyberspace dimension to its wood and cinderblock theme.

Habitat's Orange County chapter, which has built 99 homes for needy families, will be the first to take the organization's cause into the technological realm. The six residences it is building on Pomona Avenue will be wired for high-speed cable, and equipped with personal computers and printers. Tutors will teach the families that move in.

Officials for both groups said providing such technology is simply the next step in providing low-income families with basic needs.

"The computer is now a major appliance. It has become an integral part of any home," said Cotteta, president of Women in Technology. "It will give them the ability to do their resumes, look for jobs, and manage their family budgets."

Habitat for Humanity, which relies on public and private donations, broke ground on this $1.4-million project in January and hopes to move families in by Christmas. The two single-family homes and two duplexes have been framed and are in various stages of completion.

Members of Cotteta's association will be pitching in any way they can to help move the project along.

"It's more sweat than I'm used to, but it's really fun," said Joseph, 22, a database consultant for Urban Science in Long Beach. "It's nice to see the families we're helping, and the gratitude in their eyes when you pick up a hammer and help build their house."

Smith, a sales director and recruiter for Ballantyne, an information technology firm in Irvine, agreed. She said she never had to do this kind of work at her home in San Clemente.

"I barely know where my kitchen is," she quipped from her perch in the rafters. "I had no idea all the stuff you have to go through. It's a good eye-opener."

Many members of the families that will be moving in were on hand, too, along with scores of other volunteers. Each family is required to put in 500 hours of "sweat equity" to qualify for the homes.

Anita O'Brien, a 47-year-old instructional assistant for special needs kids, rents a room from her brother in Santa Ana, where she and her 9-year-old son, Manuel, sleep on twin beds. They are getting one of the two-bedroom duplexes. She is excited that her son finally will have not only his own room but also the computer he's always wanted.

"He expects me to buy things. I explain to him that I'm a single parent and get no child support. "He wants the Internet," she said, explaining that his schoolmates brag to him that they have it. "He's very excited."

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