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USDA Partnerships Make Great Things Happen in Rural America: Disabled Woman Walks Across the Threshold of Her Own Home

Posted by Pennsylvania State Director Thomas P. Williams, State Director in Energy Rural
Jul 07, 2014
Collette Brandt and her miniature pinschers enjoy their new home, particularly the large yard and beautiful tree. Collette walks the dogs through her new neighborhood as part of her therapy.
Collette Brandt and her miniature pinschers enjoy their new home, particularly the large yard and beautiful tree. Collette walks the dogs through her new neighborhood as part of her therapy.

This summer, USDA is highlighting partnerships to invest in the future of rural America. Our partners work with us year after year to leverage resources and grow economic opportunities. They are the key to ensuring our rural communities thrive. Follow more of our stories at #RuralPartners.

In recognition of National Homeownership Month, we recently cut the ribbon to Collette Brandt’s home. Collette has seen a lot of struggles over the past three years.  After falling at home and tragically severing her spinal column, the occupational therapist was told she may never walk again. The tragedy coincided with the end of a long term relationship and Collette had to move in with a co-worker.  Determined to walk again and eventually own her own home, Collette’s determination drove her to work her way back on her feet physically and financially.

Not sure of her options as a middle-aged, currently disabled single woman, Collette reached out to Melanie Page at the Union County Housing Authority (UCHA).  Through a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development HOME grant (a federally funded program that provides municipalities with grant and loan assistance as well as technical assistance to expand the supply of decent and affordable housing for low- and very low-income Pennsylvanians), the UCHA builds and refurbishes homes for income eligible residents over the age of 55. As an added bonus, the homes are part of an energy research project with Pennsylvania State University.

Melanie thought Collette was a perfect fit for the Energy Efficient Housing Program and without hesitation, recommended the USDA Rural Development Direct Loan program for the financing.  As a successful homebuyer through the direct loan program herself, Melanie had a very good experience with the program. When Collette emailed USDA loan specialist Judy Bartlett in the Lycoming Area Office late on a February Friday evening, she was pleasantly surprised to have a response sitting in her inbox on Monday morning. Two months later, Collette was moving into her UCHA energy efficient refurbished home in Lewisburg, Union County.

Collette’s home is designed to be “Green” via a National Association of Home Builders program and is ENERGY STAR rated. It is projected to use much less energy than even a new home. Collette’s one bedroom ranch home is equipped with The Energy Detective, a monitoring device that monitors the amount of energy being used in a home at any given time. Students from the Pennsylvania State University monitor the device remotely to ensure the home continues to perform at a high level of efficiency and to provide user-specific feedback to the homeowner on any high energy usage habits. The team will publish their findings after a five-year study is complete.

For Collette, she says she’s “still on cloud nine.”  Her home is beautiful inside and out with flowering trees beginning to bloom as the spring rains finally give way to sunshine. Determined to get back to her profession as an occupational therapist, Collette walks in her neighborhood frequently with her two miniature pinchers and is planning to attend a block party in her neighborhood over the July 4 weekend. She wants to get back to the business of helping others and we have no doubt that she’ll do just that.

The partner collaboration that made Collette’s new home possible is representative of how USDA Rural Development and our partners work together to marshal resources and leverage our programs with other sources of assistance. In fact, this approach is standard operating procedure for USDA so that the residents, businesses and communities we serve have a range of options and access to top-notch service. Our network of engaged partners encompasses a vast array of service providers, business and economic development organizations, financial institutions, and state, local and tribal governments. In addition to the housing sector, these partnerships stretch across sectors to bring in expertise and assistance from across education, health care, social services, foundations, nonprofits, private industry, and, of course, the public sector.  Collette’s story is just one of thousands of triumphs achieved every day in rural America, thanks to the terrific working relationships USDA has with our many partners.

Category/Topic: Energy Rural