Families in Bridgeport and Stratford are closer to achieving their dream of owning a home, thanks in part to the recent efforts of nearly 400 GE employees and subcontractors, including two dozen Fairfield, Southport and Easton residents, working with Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County.

For 15 years, GE has partnered with Habitat in a two-week volunteer effort that serves as the kickoff to the company's United Way of Coastal Fairfield County campaign. GE corporate employees are given first-hand look at how their United Way contributions and agencies like Habitat for Humanity meet the needs of the region. This year, GE also sponsored two of the houses the volunteers worked on, providing construction funds and appliances.

"Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County is marking its 25th anniversary this year," said Bruce Berzin, co-president and chief operations officer. "We've built 152 houses to date, and for the first time, we're building simultaneously in three communities, Bridgeport, Stratford and Stamford. Our success isn't possible without the extraordinary commitment of partners like GE and the working families we serve."

During the daily lunch break, representatives of GE, Habitat for Humanity, and various agencies supported by United Way provided an overview of their efforts on behalf of the homeless, low-income, children at risk and others.

Keith Cook, Habitat's co-president and director of construction, explained to the volunteers, "Future Habitat homeowners must volunteer 500 hours of `sweat equity' working on other Habitat houses and their own as part of their qualification process."

Edgardo and Tiena Cintron, who will own one of the GE-sponsored homes, worked alongside the volunteers throughout the two weeks. The Cintrons, who have three daughters, described to the volunteers how much having a yard to play in and rooms of their own mean to their children. The family hopes to move into their new home on Bridgeport's East Side in the spring.

With their "sweat equity" in lieu of a down payment, the homeowners purchase the houses at cost and carry a zero-percent interest mortgage through Habitat, Cook said. They must earn between 30 percent and 50 percent of the area median income to qualify. In many cases, their monthly payments for mortgage, taxes and insurance will be less than their current rent payments.

For information about volunteering or donating, call 203-333-2642 or visit www.habitatcfc.org.