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Rabecca Ngugi spent 255 hours of “sweat equity” helping Lancaster-Lebanon Habitat for Humanity volunteers rebuild a home at 428 Cumberland St. after fire destroyed all but its century-old facade.

Now, it’s hers.

The native of Kenya and her 8–old son officially received the keys to the three-story row home at a backyard ceremony on June 17.

Rabecca Ngugi in front of her new home, just before the June 17 dedication. (LebTown)

Ngugi, as are all Habitat applicants, was required to pitch in and help volunteers repair the house. She spent many of her 255 hours framing walls, hanging drywall, and painting, while simultaneously attending nursing school.

Did she have a favorite – or least favorite – part of the work? “I think it was all quite interesting,” she said. “I had never done that before. Every step in the process was interesting.”

Ngugi will finance her purchase through Habitat’s affordable mortgage program.

Renovated home at 428 Cumberland St. shows no sign off the fire that destroyed its interior. (LebTown)

Habitat volunteers who worked on the property, local officials, and Kathleen Kopecky-Groh, the dentist who owned, lived, and worked at 428 prior to the fire, were on hand for the proceedings.

Habitat likewise rehabbed the adjoining row homes at 422 and 424 Cumberland, which were also destroyed by fires.

Kopecky-Groh said the first fire in 2016 was at 424, the middle unit, and the 2017 fire occurred while she was in the process of repairing damage at 428 from the earlier blaze.

The three homes were completely rebuilt from the facades back. (LebTown)

Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello stressed the importance of keeping the original facades to maintain harmony with buildings in the rest of the block at the edge of downtown.

“The city was really trying to find a partner that we could work with to try and save the facades,” she said. “We thought [demolishing the original facades] would change the entire look of this block. We didn’t want something ‘new’ to be the face of this block.”

Completely new first floor interior. (LebTown)

County Commissioner Bob Philips said he and his colleagues “thought this was a great project because it’s right on the main street” where “the public can see Habitat and public money at work.” He also noted that the three rehabilitated properties “move the needle from rental properties to owner-occupied homes.”

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization in 70 countries that helps families own affordable housing and in turn build stable communities. Its Lancaster-Lebanon chapter is one of 1,100 local affiliates in the the United States.

Damage after the 2017 fire. (Kathleen Kopecky-Groh)
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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...